The historic course welcomes greats of the past and present when the Saucony English National returns to London on Saturday
When the Olympic Games were awarded to London seven years ago, the English Cross-Country Association immediately decided that it would be fitting to hold the 2012 event in the capital as it would be the South’s turn to hold it.
This most prestigious race on the English cross-country calendar will thus be held almost within sight of the Olympic Stadium.
English Cross Country Association secretary Ian Byett said: “The City of London were keen to put it on and the staff and management at Parliament Hill always give tip-top cooperation in staging the event.”
While 2011 winners Steve Vernon and Louise Damen will be back to defend the titles they won at Alton Towers last year, they will be joined by some distinguished guests.
Frank Sando – the senior men’s winner in 1957, the first of the 11 times the National has been held here – will be present.
Byett added: “Tim Hutchings (National winner in 1983 and 1986) said he would have come if he was not working in the USA. David Moorcroft (fourth in 1981 after missing the start) is coming straight from Heathrow after flying back from Canada overnight and not wanting to miss the event this year.”
Ron Hill, Mike Tagg, Nick Rose, Richard Nerurkar, John Nuttall, Dave Bedford, Eamonn Martin and Tony Simmons will be attending. The late Mel Batty (winner in 1964 and 1965), who was spotted at the top of the hill during last year’s South of England championships, will be sadly missed.
Basil Heatley (winner in 1960, 1961 and 1962) is the only winner attending to have won an Olympic medal (silver at the marathon in 1964).
With the Inter-Counties championships next month not serving as a selection race as there is no IAAF World Cross this year, perhaps the National will regain some of its former glories this time around.
In addition to a great day’s racing, Saucony will be in attendance with top local retailer Runnersworld with some great offers including 25% off all apparel, all spikes reduced to clear and dozens of other deals.
Steve Vernon, who won his fourth Northern title this year, will be expected to battle with a rejuvenated Frank Tickner in the senior men’s race. However, Ben Tickner’s storming finish to beat Phil Wicks in the South of England event at Brighton last month will give him new-found confidence to challenge the family supremacy long held by his younger brother. Also on form at Stanmer Park was a former area junior winner on this course, Jon Pepper.
A steady start was the order of the day for Ben Tickner and Pepper at Brighton and, with Parliament Hill’s notorious near half-mile long starting hill, it is a policy that may pay off again.
James Walsh, who won his sixth Midlands title in eight years last month, will be keen to cash in for National honours, after placing fourth last year and will boost Leeds’ efforts after they were upstaged in the Northern by Altrincham. Southern champions Highgate are also solid and on their home turf.
It could be that the going on the Heath resembles turf unless last weekend’s rain causes the course to cut up badly. However, the lack of serious winter precipitation will probably mean that the course is, at worst, sticky as opposed to the mudbath seen when the National was first held at Parliament Hill in 1957.
Southern course specialists here, Bedford & County could be back to serious strength, as could 2010 champions Aldershot, Farnham & District, but Notts and Tipton could also challenge in a wide-open men’s team race.
Many lament that the event is now a mere 12km rather than the traditional nine miles or 15km of yesteryear.
To celebrate the 125th running of the men’s race (the first was in 1876), all finishers in this race will receive a commemorative pin badge.
Louise Damen, who won on the quagmire course at Alton Towers last year, will be hard to beat here, unless European bronze medallist Gemma Steel makes a return to the mud after her recent performances indoors.
Hatti Dean won the last time the race was held here in 2009 while another in contention will be her team-mate Lizzie Adams, who won the Northern title.
Midland winner Juliet Doyle is due to compete for Charnwood, who will be among the favourites team-wise as usual.
Aldershot have Steph Twell, Emma Pallant and Charlie Purdue entered, but it is unlikely that they will all run, although they won the area title with a virtual ‘C’ team.
Other contenders for individual honours in the women’s race, which is over two laps and totals 8km, include European under-23 silver medallist Naomi Taschimowitz, who won the Southern title over this same course in 2011. Birchfield’s Hannah Walker is also down, as is Bristol & West’s Lucy MacAlister, who has dominated the Surrey Ladies’ League this winter.
The younger age-group events, particularly among the girls, have a series of favourites upon whom the bookies would be loath to accept any more bets. Emelia Gorecka, the European junior champion, looks a class apart in the under-20 women’s event and her Aldershot team has been dominating this winter. The same might have been said about Jessica Judd in the under-17 group until she came unstuck in the South of England championships as Alex Clay pounced for victory.
Younger sister Bobby Clay struck in the under-15 Southern event but was headed on the 3000m rankings last year by Rebecca Croft and Katie Shiel-Rankin. The Goddard twins, Hope and Grace, have dominated with their Bracknell team at under-13 level this winter.
Niall Fleming won the Southern under-20 men’s title in the absence of European silver medallist Richard Goodman last month, but both are entered this time. Jonny Hay is down for Aldershot and, along with Ian Bailey, Harvey Dixon and Josh Grace, ought to take the team honours. Kieran Clements won over this course in the 2011 Southern.
Jonny Davies looks to be the one to beat in the under-17 men’s event over 6km. He won the South of England event at Brighton from Scott Halstead and Michael Callegari after also taking the Bristol leg of the McCain Cross Challenge in November.
Patrick Dever won the Northern under-15 title, while George Duggan and Tom Holden battled it out in the Southern. Northern under-13 winner Hugo Miller and Midland winner James Fradley topped the 1500m rankings last year but can expect to have Woodford’s Canaan Solomon, the Southern under-13 winner, to contend with this Saturday.