MIKE DOWN’S NATIONAL CROSS PREVIEW

21 Feb

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS – ARE WE READY TO SEIZE IT?

The major fascination of all competitive sport is its unpredictability, no more so than in an event like our men’s National cross country championship, which this year has attracted entries from more than 390 clubs to what looks sure to be a really testing course at Wollaton Park given the unusually wet winter we have been experiencing.

While known current form can narrow down the main contenders for the individual medals, the outcome of the team championship depends more than anything on which of the major clubs involved succeed in getting all their leading runners to the start. Our record in this respect over the last two years has been pretty good, taking the silver medals against the odds at Parliament Hill two years ago – the club’s best ever performance if the championship – and likewise the bronze medals at Harewood House, Leeds last year. Nor should one underestimate the significance of those achievements, for though we were founder members of the English Cross Country Union in 1884, we had only medalled once before, taking the bronze medals in 2008 – and that too came since the rebranding of the club as Bristol and West in 2004. The fact remains that we have never won the senior men`s team championship in the 136 years of its existence!

Rumours abound about who is running, and who not, but from our point of view we look set to be fielding our strongest ever team, with only HARRY ALLEN, JACK BANCROFT and BEN WESTHENRY, all of whom are never at their best on yielding ground, missing from what would be a full strength line-up. Our top finisher last year in 18th place marathon international PETE LE GRICE heads the team again with our two cross country internationals JACK MILLAR, who has been in the form of his life this winter, and WILL CHRISTOFI, who it will not be forgotten made the top ten two years ago.

The back-up to these three is led by our new Tri-Counties champion and South West silver medallist FELIX MCGRATH and KURT TAYLOR, the bronze medallist in both those races behind Felix, along with our two other outstanding West country runners CALLUM JONES and ANDY CHAMBERS. Callum underlined his class at Armagh last week, and despite the intensity of his training being compromised this winter by a chronic groin strain, he has been making up for it with a big mileage which could pay dividends over the demanding 12K championship distance, while as for Andy he has opted for a warm weather training period in Spain to complete his preparation for the race and feels he is going as well as he ever has.

While our scoring six should come from those seven, all of whom apart from perhaps Pete, Callum and Kurt will relish the likely  gruelling underfoot conditions that seem inevitable after the rain of the last few weeks, there will be strong support behind from the team’s most improved runner this season ANDY WATT, who only just missed making the top ten in the Midland championship, along with the experience of team captain OWAIN JONES and JARLATH MCKENNA, both of whom were key members of our 2018 and 2019 medal-winning teams, as well as JOSH MOODY, who surprised everyone, including himself, by making the top 100 last year and scoring for the bronze medal-winning team. It is even conceivable that we could have as many as ten runners in that coveted top 100 of the huge field of up to 2500 runners, which would make us serious contenders for the subsidiary nine to count classification, while others who might contribute to that extra challenge include our two other Midland bronze medallists JED BARTLETT and GRAHAM BREEN, recent recruit JOE CONNORS, OLLY SHEPPARD, MACIEJ BIALOGONSKI and PETE BAINS.

Despite rumours that last year’s individual silver medallist EMILE CAIRESS and track international PHILIP SESEMANN are not expected to line up for LEEDS, last year’s all-conquering cross and road relay champions will still start firm favourites, such is their remarkable strength in depth, along with the runaway 2018 winners and runners-up last year TONBRIDGE, plus the three recently crowned new area champions ALDERSHOT (South), SALE (North) and BIRCHFIELD (Midlands). Led by Ethiopian pair OMAR AHMED and KHALID ABDULLAH, the individual Midland gold and bronze medallists, Birchfield are reported to be targeting the race this year, while the dark horses could well be BEDFORD, who like us rarely aim for the area championship and have been boosted by the recent signing of AARON SCOTT from Lincoln.

To have any hope of taking the team title you invariably need to have your six counters in the top 50. Leeds’ winning total last year for instance was a remarkable 110pts, Tonbridge the year before 131pts, an average of plus or minus 20th, but this year a score of around 150pts may well be more than good enough, but that’s still an average of 25th. Nevertheless a total of 180-200pts looks well within our reach and should put us well in contention for medals of one colour or another. This race has been our target all winter guys. The opportunity is there, and remember if we don`t take it another club will!

Mike Down.