Jonny Davies (coach: Rob McKim, club: Reading/Run Fast) and Louise Damen (self-coached, Winchester) both enjoyed dominant wins in the opening round of the British Athletics Cross Challenge series at Tear Drop Lakes in Milton Keynes.
Davies continued his strong start to the cross country season by running out as the winner of the senior men’s race after a battle over the opening laps. The Run Fast athlete was part of the quartet which formed during the first of the long laps, opening a marginal gap on Dewi Griffiths (Kevin Evans, Swansea), Jonny Taylor (Gordon Surtees, Morpeth) and Adam Hickey (Eamonn Martin, Southend). The lead extended on the final lap and Davies achieved his first senior Cross Challenge victory.
He said afterwards: “I felt good from the start – I didn’t want to do too much of the work but I kept finding myself drifting to the front. Half way around the first lap, Dewi (Griffiths) started doing a few testers which began to break it up. When he moved, I moved with him.”
Davies added: “It’s my first senior Cross Challenge win so it bodes well for three weeks’ time in Liverpool (which incorporates the European Cross Country Championships trials). My main focus is the Euros, getting there and winning a medal.”
Taylor overhauled Griffiths in the final stages to show his return to form with last year’s senior men’s Cross Challenge winner Hickey, returning from injuries in recent months, in fourth.
Damen started her first race in six months and showed a magnificent return to the muddy terrain to overpower her challengers and take victory in the senior women’s race. The experienced athlete has focused on marathons in recent years but admitted she enjoyed a return to the cross country scene.
She commented after her win: “Honestly, I’m delighted. It’s my first race for nearly six months – I had a rough summer so I was coming out today not really sure what shape I was in but I had to throw myself in the deep end. I want to be ready for Liverpool so what better place to get started than here and pitching myself against some really good girls.
“As a marathon runner, 6km is a bit of a sprint so I had to run as hard as I could. I knew everyone had been running well over the last couple of weeks so it was good to see where I am at.”
Next home was Elle Vernon (Steve Vernon, Stockport) who backed up her fast run in Mansfield last weekend with Jenny Nesbitt (David Walker, Worcester) in third place, a winner on this course in February this year during the 2014/15 edition of the Cross Challenge and
After injury ended her cross country season last year, Bobby Clay (Rob Denmark, Invicta East Kent AC) was delighted to be back in action and win the women’s U20 race. The European Junior 1500m champion translated her good track form onto the hills in Milton Keynes, blowing away the competition to take the maximum points. Harriet Knowles-Jones (Paul Roden, Warrington) pushed the 18 year-old on the first lap but Clay moved away from the fourth placer in the 1500m at the 2015 IAAF World Youth Championships, who took second place.
Clay said: “I love cross country so it is so good to be back. This is why I train, to compete like this. I have never raced on this course before so it was something really different. It has been an exciting start to the season and hopefully it is a preview of what is to come.”
One of the closest finishes of the day came in the U20 men’s race as Southampton’s Mahamed Mahamed (Peter Haynes, Southampton) out sprinted Ben Dijkstra (Leicester Corinthians) to the line. A slip on the final corner seemed to give the Leicester athlete the advantage but Mahamed showed his strength to take a maiden Cross Challenge win in this age group.
Morven Goodrum (Shireen Higgins, WSEH) and Rob Huckle (Mark Vile, Cambridge & Coleridge) won the women’s and men’s U17 race respectively; both races were combined with the U20 races.
Last year’s U15 Cross Challenge winner Jasmine Cooper (Derby AC) returned in style to win the opening round. Zakariya Mahamad (Peter Haynes, Southampton) matched his brother’s victory in the U20 men’s race to take the plaudits in the U15 boys’ race.
Welsh athlete Mike Spill (Stephen Livett, Menai) had a commanding performance to take the U13 boys race with Kirsten Stilwell (Wycombe Phoenix, Richard Claessens) winning the women’s equivalent.
The U11s kicked off the programme with Jake Barker (City of Stoke) and Valencia Wright (Victoria Park City of Glasgow) earning the first wins of the 2015/16 series.
Full results can be found on the Results Base website: https://www.resultsbase.net/home.aspx