Vernon and Steel regain National titles

Favourites take their second English senior cross-country golds at Wollaton Park

Gemma Steel wins National XC by Mark Shearman

Steve Vernon and Gemma Steel took the senior victories in the 127th English National Cross Country Championships in Wollaton Park, Nottingham.

Vernon made history by becoming the first man to win more seven medals in the Saucony-sponsored championships, although he insisted afterwards he was never going to be happy with just top-three.

Adding to his 2011 victory, the Stockport Harrier came home eight seconds ahead of Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers’ Richard Goodman. Hallamshire Harrier Andy Heyes was third, one place ahead of Nick Swinburn.

In the absence of two-time defending champion Keith Gerrard, Vernon was favourite despite the relatively fast 12km course with a few muddy sections being not perfect for him.

Steel regained the title she won in 2012 as she continued her preparation for the Virgin Money London Marathon in April.

In second and 17 seconds behind was a back-in-form Steph Twell, who showed good endurance over 8km after her 9:42 indoor two-miler in Birmingham the weekend before. Lily Partridge was next across the line followed by Katie Brough.

The most dominant performance of the day came in the junior women’s race where Georgia Taylor-Brown capitalised on the absence of the ill Emelia Gorecka to finish 48 seconds clear over just 21 minutes of running.

Taylor-Brown, who will be concentrating on triathlon this summer, went clear of the field virtually from the start and was followed home by Amy Griffiths and then Grace Baker.

European junior cross-country champion Gorecka would have been aiming to take her eighth consecutive title in the National but would have had her work cut out to have beaten Taylor-Brown, who was ahead of her at the British Universities and Colleges Sport Championships earlier this winter.

The men’s equivalent almost produced a major shock as Jonathan Davies, who was fourth in the junior race at the Euro Cross this winter, had to come from behind to beat Weynay Ghebresilasie in a sprint finish. The margin of victory was four seconds in the end as Douglas Musson was third.

The surprise came in the under-17 women’s race, though, as Lydia Turner outsprinted Bobby Clay, who was eighth at the Euro Cross. Turner was four seconds clear, while Harriet Knowles-Jones was third.

The most exciting race of the day was that for the under-13 girls’ title in which Grace Copeland, finishing furiously, just caught and passed Alex Brown on the line. It was so close that both were given the same time after 11 minutes of running and Copeland did not know she had won until she was handed the winner’s flowers.

Other winners were Zak Miller (under-17), Sabrina Sinha (under-15), Ben Dijkstra (under-15) and Joshua Cowperthwaite (under-13).

>> See this week’s Athletics Weekly, out on February 27, for 10 pages of reports, photographs and results

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