Historic 125th English National Cross Country Champs is hit by heatwave as Gemma Steel and Keith Gerrard take virgin victories
Forty years after an icy blizzard caused carnage at the 1972 National at Sutton Coldfield and 12 months after similarly dismal weather hit the 2011 races at Alton Towers, this year’s Saucony English National Cross Country Championships at Parliament Hill was bathed in glorious sunshine.
Ice cream vans did a roaring trade. As did autograph hunters due to the large number of former champions in attendance such as Basil Heatley, Ron Hill and Frank Sando – the latter being the National winner when it was first held at Parliament Hill in 1957.
With the backdrop of the Olympic host city, it proved a spectacular setting. And while the majority of finishers were humble club runners, the sharp end of the senior races included both 2012 Olympic and Virgin London Marathon hopefuls.
Keith Gerrard claimed his first National senior title as a strong surge in the second half of the race took him away from reigning champion Steve Vernon.
The Newham & Essex Beagle won by 11 seconds from Vernon, with John Beattie, recently back from altitude in Kenya and targeting the Virgin London Marathon, third.
Led by James Wilkinson in fifth, Leeds City took the team title.
Results: 1 Keith Gerrard (NEB) 35:56; 2 Steve Vernon (Stock) 36:07; 3 John Beattie (NEB) 36:13; 4 Frank Tickner (Wells) 36:27; 5 James Wilkinson (Leeds) 36:30
Gemma Steel has proved adept on all surfaces this winter. She began by winning the Great Birmingham Run half-marathon last October, then she ventured indoors with promising 3000m performances, but it is perhaps on the country that she has looked most impressive and in Parliament Hill she ran away from a strong field that included Olympian Steph Twell.
Coached by former National champion John Nuttall, the Charnwood runner led on the first lap with Hatti Dean, while Twell, Hannah Walker and Sonia Samuels formed a chasing group a few metres behind. But in the second half Steel drew away as Dean faded to fifth and Twell surged through strongly to offer yet more proof that her comeback from career-threatening injury is nearly complete.
Samuels, a former junior winner, ran well in third ahead of a tilt at the Virgin London Marathon in April, while Hannah Walker rounded off her solid winter with fourth place.
Unlike Samuels, Steel has no immediate marathon ambitions. Instead she hopes to qualify in the 5000m or more likely 10,000m for the Olympics and she is improving steadily the whole time – finishing 17th, 16th, 4th and now first in successive National Cross events.
Dean was half a minute adrift of the leaders by the end but had the satisfaction of leading Hallamshire to the team gold medals.
Results: 1 G Steel (Charn) 27:06; 2 S Twell (AFD) 27:09; 3 S Samuels (Sale) 27:09; 4 H Walker (Birch) 27:14; 5 H Dean (Hallam) 27:47
Jonny Hay has been on fire this winter and the AFD runner captured this title in style, winning by 21 seconds from Harvey Dixon.
Results: 1 J Hay (AFD) 31:50; 2 H Dixon (AFD) 32:11; 3 Charlie MacLean (B&W) 32:12
Emelia Gorecka was perhaps the most dominant winner of the day and she took her sixth National title.
The AFD runner beat Annabel Gummow – who is herself no mean athlete – by 18 seconds with Jennifer Walsh a further 27 seconds behind.
Results: 1 E Gorecka (AFD) 21:02; 2 A Gummow (B&W) 21:20; 3 J Walsh (Spen) 21:47
Matthew Shirling of Liverpool Harriers showed great speed on the downhill finish at Parliament Hill to beat Ryan Isaacson by one second with Hobie Martin just three seconds further back.
Results: 1 M Shirling (Liv H) 19:42; 2 R Isaacson (B&C) 19:43; 3 H Martin (B&W) 19:46
Becky Straw won the opening race of the day by one second in a sprint finish with Southern champion Alex Clay. Jessica Judd controlled the opening stages, but ran out of gas to finish third.
Straw, who trains with the Birmingham University squad overseen by Bud Baldaro, was delighted and said she could ‘feel the Olympic vibe’ at the event. Judd, meanwhile, took the defeat in good spirits, saying she enjoyed it and that training focused on 800m training this winter had left her short of stamina.
Results: 1 R Straw (C&S) 18:00; 2 A Clay (IEK) 18:01; 3 J Judd (Chelm) 18:07
George Duggan of Tonbridge AC was a convincing winner of the under-15 boys race as he beat Paulos Asgodom by nine seconds.
Results: 1 G Duggan (Ton) 14:58; 2 Paulos Asgodom (Enf) 15:07; Petros Asgodom (Enf) 15:09
Bobby Clay, featured recently in Athletics Weekly‘s young athlete column, took gold by three seconds from Annabel Mason with Katie Shiel-Rankin third.
Results: 1 B Clay (IEK) 13:28; 2 A Mason (Wake) 13:31; 3 K Shiel-Rankin (AFD) 13:50
Canaan Solomon says is not sure how he got his unusual name, but he does realise he has a talent for running. Despite being a big Spurs fan, he ditched football for running about a year ago and won gold at Parliament Hill with a strong finish.
Results: 1 C Solomon (WGEL) 10:51; 2 M Lonsdale (Gates) 10:55; 3 H Milner (Derby) 10:55
Sabrina Sinha of Cambridge Harriers has only been running for a year and gets most of her fitness from swimming – with just two running sessions per week! So her talent was obvious when she won the under-13 girls title by 40 metres from Hope and Grace Goddard.
Results: 1 S Sinha (Camb H) 11:40; 2 H Goddard (Brack) 11:47; 3 G Goddard (Brack) 11:51
» More in-depth reports, photographs and results from the 2012 Saucony National Cross in the March 1 issue of Athletics Weekly.