As is always the way at the county championship the youngest age group athletes got proceedings underway, and in the fine style that has become the hallmark of the Under 13 Boys team with Archie taking the led from the start to front run the race all the way to the finish with team mate Matt Berridge hot on his heels for most of the race. As they broke from the woods, Archie got a warning call from the watching supporter and Phoenix Chief Mentor Joel Kidger that the gap was closing, he looked back expecting to see his team mate Matt approaching fast, but was surprised to see it was Matt Herring (Hastings) bearing down on him. The benefits of the ‘Monday Night’ training sessions kicked in and Archie held off the challenge to win gold by 3 seconds. Matt fought off a strong challenge from the Hastings’ second runner to take the bronze medal, and with Ollie Johnson coming home in 9th place we were ensured the team gold medal. It was a shame we had 2 of our successful Aldershot Road Relay team pull out on the day, as strong runs from Harry Bartley (10th) and Harry Swindells (14th) would have seen the B team make a serious challenge for another team medal. We also had great runs from Max Winter (36th) and Jack Etherton (38th) both pretty much competing at this level for the first time. Well done guys another quality display.
The Under 15 Girls were missing just one runner to score a team but both Jody Mann and Madeline Houghton ran well in a tough race. As to be expected Billy White delivered when it counted in the Under 15 Boys using his strong powerful build to put the power down when it mattered and keep himself out of trouble to take the title by 16 seconds. Backing him up well Sam Kitchen had a strong run to finish 6th while Will Russell showed real heart to close out the team and pick up his first county medal, with a team bronze.
The Under 17’s Boys race was the tightest of the day with the Phoenix guys unlucky not to win gold in the individual and team. Jake Elliott was lying in third place for most of the race, closing the gap on the top two, team mate Will Durkin and Ian Crowe-Write (Brighton) when he made a wrong turn, unlucky for someone who is usually so sharp on detail, if only there had been a marshal located on that part of the course. However with Jake’s (13th) unlucky error, Will Thompson (making his Phoenix debut) stepped up to the plate to put a cracking run in to come home 4th and move up a level, with Robbie Fitzgibbon closing out the last team spot in 10th with his smooth effortless style. Back up front Will was battling it out for the gold but in the dying meters he just lost out to Ian, but this is sure just to focus Will even more come the next race and his big focus of the coming summer track season.
The senior Women have been rebuilding the team of late and despite missing some of their usual runners the ladies were still able to field a team of 6 runners. Although this wasn't quite up to the number of men running, it shows that the numbers of ladies giving up some time to compete for the club over the country is increasing. As usual there was a great atmosphere within the team and everyone supported each other well.
First home for the team was Erica Martin in 15th, returning after missing quite a lot of training through illness. Next home was Anita, having a good run and finishing strongly in 24th place. Paule continued to improve in 33rd place and showed signs that her marathon training is playing off. Run of the day went to Lesley who had a brilliant and very determined sprint finish to complete the team finishing in 52nd.
Returning from injury and competing in only her 2nd cross country race, Emma Hughes had a good run to finish 55th and Sonal completed the team in 60th place. Well done also to Phoenix trained Abigail Ashbee Simmonds coming home in silver medal position in the Under 20’s race.
With Charlie Grice on international duty the day before up in Edinburgh, it was left to Max Pickard to fly the Phoenix flag alone in the Under 20’s Men’s race, although Grice had made the journey back the same day to watch the team. Max’s main opposition for the title would come in the form of Ross Skelton (Hastings), but he was in fine shape coming into this race with a massive run around the always testing Hove Park: Park-Run, where he smashed his best for the distance with a 15.06 5k. With the gun sounding Max jumped straight to the front of the pack to take control of the race, but with such a strong move in the early stages and Ross sitting just behind him he was putting all his marbles in one basket and when Ross made his move going up the long and testing drag into the woods on the second lap he gaped Max leaving him isolated in second, the only consolation was that there battle had taken them well ahead of the rest of the field, guaranteeing him silver, but not what he came for.
The Sussex Cross Country Championships have been taking place since 1925 and with our club inauguration in the early 1980’s to cater more specifically for the needs of the athletes we have won 3 Sussex titles, but just like the symbolic Phoenix bird that our club was named after the senior men’s team has risen from the ashes of late to put the best group of athletes together for a generation. If the whole team turned up on the day the writing was going to be on the wall for the other teams going on the form shown in the County Cross Country relays where we had scored a record breaking win and even managed to get the B team into the medals. After the pre race Photo call 21 of the Phoenix team took to the start with all the Phoenix big dogs in the race this was going to be something special and it sure was. With the gun cracking loudly Jon Pepper moved straight to the front and swung around the first turn to attack the hill as if he was racing a 1500m rather than one of the toughest 12k cross country courses around, the chasing pack including Phoenix boys Ben Tickner, Ian Leitch, Finn Mcnally, Josh Guilmant were happy to sit back in the pack and see what Jon had got, knowing there would be time to make moves latter in the race. Going on to the second lap Ben moved into a chasing group with Matt Dumigan (Worthing) , Adam Clark (Hastings) and Todd Leckie (Hailsham) with Ian and Finn forming the next group of two and Josh further back taking a more steady approach to the race having had a difficult build up week. It was not long before Ben put his foot down and dropped Adam from the group with Todd going soon after. They were soon picked off with Josh moving past Finn and on to Ian shoulder, as Phoenix turned up the heat. Upfront Jon was setting the kind of pace that only the best in the country can stay with lucky for Ben he is in that class and every kilometre he was pulling him in. Jon however is not known for breaking or slowing in the final part of the race so it was up to Ben to increase the pace and he did just that although it was not enough as Jon took his first individual Sussex Cross Country title, Ben was only a matter of seconds behind well clear of Matt coming in for Bronze. Ian and Josh were locked in their own private battle for 4th with Ian making a move with a 1 kilometre to go, not wanting to leave it to a final sprint with Josh (5th), to snatch 4th Finn was safely in 6th but was only 5th in the team given the amazing strength this year, a great run all the same given that this was his first year in the senior men's race. It was then left to Darryl Hards and Sam Wade to battle it out for the one remaining place in what would be the best gold medal team ever assembled by Phoenix. Darryl had been pushing the pace but it was Sam that made the final move powering down through the woods for 14th, to complete what is to be believed the second lowest score by any senior team in the history of the event which given its historical roots is massively significant.
There was however to be a silver lining of sorts for Darryl as the B team were also chasing a medal of their own. Tom Hopkins may have been away from the track for some months but it looks like he has been doing some hard training, and also sporting a very impressive beard coming home in 18th. Dave Carter a cross country and marathon expert was returning after a lengthy spell on the sidelines to finish 28th just holding off new boy Jose Luceron (31st), with James Atkinson 48th and Donald McClellan closing out team in 51st position. If ever it was worth pushing for every position this was the day to do it with the B team coming home just one point ahead of fourth and fifth place teams, to take the bronze medal. Well done to all the other guys including James Miles, Daren Elliott, Joe Francis, Malcolm Hughes, Brian Friend, Andy Neighbour, Stuart Pal, Ian Moss and Malcolm Kemp for taking part in Phoenix’s greatest ever County Cross Country Team.
If you’re going to win your first county title in 12 years you might as well do it in style.
Thank you to Malcolm Kemp for designing this especially tough but satisfying course and everyone who helped him set it out on the day. As well as all who supported the club on the day in one capacity or another, we could not run a club without having such a great group of individuals, giving up there time to make this happen.
Photo Credit Lance Bellers
Photo Credit Quentin Davis (Under 13 boys team photo)