The Bristol and West men’s team left Mansfield’s Berry Hill Park on Saturday 2nd November 2013 without the bronze medals they surely deserved after running out of their skins to finish third in the record field of 184 teams at the National cross-country relay championships.
In a cruel twist of fate the club’s elite quartet of Phil Wylie, Owain Jones, Charlie Maclean and Steve Mitchell were denied their place on the podium due to an unintended admin error on the club’s entry form.
“Our Development Adviser filed our entry on-line as usual, but was never able to check our confirmed list of runners due to his e-mail service being out of commission after moving house midweek,” said team manager Mike Down.
“Unbelievably Owain’s name was not in the programme when I went to declare our running order for the 4X5k event, but despite our explanation the race referee decreed that we could only compete as a non-scoring team.
It did seem a harsh decision for what was clearly a clerical rather than eligibility problem as all four of our runners, including Owain, are well known and long-standing members of the club’s first choice team and had been the backbone of their squad in the National road relay championship only two weeks ago, so none of them would have been left out intentionally.
The race itself was a nail-biter from start to finish. Duathlon star Wylie, despite being tapped for toe in the helter-skelter start, worked his way relentlessly through the ranks on the narrow undulating woodland section of the two lap course to finish within striking distance of the leaders in 6th place.
Jones, seemingly unperturbed by the pre-race controversy, really rose to the occasion and judging his race perfectly moved up to 4th despite being passed himself by Aldershot’s UK champion Andy Vernon who went on to set the day’s fastest leg by some 20 seconds of 15:02.
Maclean, by now sensing the possibility of a medal position, set off as if he had only one circuit to cover. Storming round he was soon up to second, and though inevitably paying for his indiscretion on the second lap he was still well clear in third place at the final changeover.
Finally Mitchell, more fired up than any of his team mates over the referee’s decision, left nothing to chance on the anchor leg and made light of holding off the challenge of three times champions Bedford for third place’
More significantly the team finished only just over half a minute down on the winners Aldershot and within striking distance of the silver medallists recently crowned National road relay champions Sale.
“! couldn’t help but remonstrate with the referee at the finish as I was really gutted at the decision to disqualify us for following last year’s debacle when we were in the lead at halfway, but had no one to complete the job due to injuries and illness, we had all pledged to get among the medals this year,” bemoaned Mitchell.
“The Bedford team were clearly embarrassed by the situation and admitted they did not like robbing us of the medals in this way”.
The fiasco over the men’s fate inevitably overshadowed the fine effort of the women’s team of Kate Goodhead, Anna Burton and Helen Sharpe, who earlier had more than done themselves justice by finishing a creditable 7th in another line-up of more than 100 clubs in their event.
Goodhead underlined her class by finishing in the top ten on the opening 3k stage, a position that the promising Burton and new recruit Sharpe improved to 9th and 7th respectively to leave team manager Keith Brackstone well satisfied.
It may have been a bitterly disappointing drive home for the guys, but as a team there was the consolation that taking the men’s and women’s results together, the club proved that on the day they were the second best in the country behind dual champions Aldershot.
England Cross-country Relay Championships: Men (4X5K) – Teams: 1 Aldershot 62:54; 2 Sale (Manchester) 63:21; Bristol and West 63:35; 3 Bedford 63:50; 4 Stockport 64:29; 5 Belgrave 64:47; 6 Nottingham 64:53; 7 Leeds 64:55; 8 Highgate 65:22; 9 Salford 65:38; 10 Heanor 65:50
Fastest laps: A Vernon (Aldershot) 15:02; N Goolab (Belgrave) 15.24; D Garbutt (Durham) 15:34. B&W (in running order): P Wylie 15:49; O Jones 16:02; C Maclean 15:49; S Mitchell 15:55.
Women (3X3K) -Teams: 1 Aldershot 30:01; 2 Aldershot B 31:26; 3 Stoke 31:35; 4 Leigh 31:41; 5 Rotherham 31:56; 6 Charnwood 32:05; 7 Bristol and West 32:14; 8 Norwich 32:17; 9 Thames Valley 32:20; 10 Vale Royal 32:29.
Fastest laps: L Partridge (Aldershot) 9:49; S Stockton (Vale Royal 9:50; S Twell (Aldershot) 9:58. B&W (in running order) – K Goodhead 10:23; A Burton 10:48; H Sharpe 11:03.