Wednesday 9 November 2022

English National XC Relays - North East Report


Birtley U13 Girls winning team with Coach Gary Curtis

The man on the mic was caught out when first home in the under-13 girls contest at the ECCA National Cross-Country Relays at Berry Hill Park, Mansfield was a Birtley athlete, however, the commentator hadn’t done his homework for the winning trio of Kitty Graham, Olivia Murphy and Kitty’s twin sister Nell, had produced some eye- catching early season performances having won both the Northern Road Relay and Cross-Country Relay Championships as well as finishing runner-up in the National Road Relay Championships behind the strong Southern outfit Aldershot, Farnham and District (AF&D).

Perhaps the announcer was caught aback a little for Kitty Graham had Birtley back in sixth place going into the first changeover zone 18 seconds adrift of Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow (WSE&H) with AF&D two places and five seconds further adrift.

On the second leg Murphy was quickly into her stride and before half-way of the 2k circuit had reeled in the leader but the big danger was now AF&D who also cut back the deficit and was on Murphy’s shoulder as they came to the final changeover locked together with WSE&H a further seven seconds back in third place.

Once again it was Nell Graham who was given the honour, just as she had in previous events, of contesting the glory leg as she, just like Murphy, set off briskly in an attempt to ease away and the tactic turned into reality after quickly opening up a 10-second gap well into her stint. 

With a sprinkling of support from a number of spectators – including yours truly - from the North East and, of course, the girls’ parents and coach, Nell managed to come home clear despite the AF&D athlete closing her down slightly towards the finish and it was a delighted Birtley trio who were called up to receive their gold medals after being announced as winners from the same announcer who will certainly know all about Birtley now and if he is on the mic in 12 months’ time there is every chance he could be calling out a repeat performance as the girls will still be eligible to line up in the under-13 contest once more!

Naturally, the Birtley trio grabbed the headlines for they were the region’s only medallists. However, there were other teams from the NE who also took in the event to gain championship experience.

In the same under-13 girls contest the Gateshead trio of Emily Collingwood, Larkin Reid and Maeve Taggart finished in 52nd place while in the under-13 boys relay over the same 2k course, Elswick’s threesome of Nicholas Surtees-Brown, George Russell and Dominic Kelso came home in 44th position.

The under-15s also ran the same distance as the younger age group and in the girls’ event Darlington, with the trio of Zara Jones, Freya Talman and Sophie Bannister, finished in 35th place from 95 teams which started while Elswick’s Team of Poppy Wilde, Erin Bright and Isla Gardner, came home in 54th spot.

In the boys’ relay Morpeth and Elswick were the region’s representatives with the Northumbrian trio of Harry Armstrong, Oliver Calvert and Steven Craske getting the better of their Tyneside rivals by just 15 seconds with Sam Allison, Adam Jeavans and Liam Heron Coulson representing the Newcastle club.

The under-17 age group faced a distance of 2.5k and in the men’s event Morpeth finished strongly and only 40 seconds off bronze medal position with the trio of Elliot Kelso, Liam Roche and William De Vere Owen as they came home in 10th place out of 60 teams. Gateshead also lined up and the team of Matthew Atkinson, Matthew Dias and Luca Shaw, finished in 56th place.

In the under-17 women’s contest only two seconds separated Gateshead and Elswick at the finish. The trio of Jessica Milburn, Iona Johnstone and Aoife Bell finished in 10th place while the Newcastle club’s representatives Poppy Old, Isabella Russell and Imogen Bungay came home in 13th position out of the 60 teams which started.

The final two events n the programme were the senior women and senior men and here again a sprinkling of NE clubs faced the starter. In the women’s three stage contest over a distance of 3k, Morpeth, Elswick and two NE Project teams were among the 136 called to their marks with the Morpeth trio Lizzie Rank, Robyn Bennett and Rachelle Falloon finishing in 59th place, Elswick finished 88th with Joanne Brown, Sara Blight and Andrea Banner while the NE Project A team of Lindsey Blackburn, Helen Hall and Jen Howse finished 110th with the second string of Janet Stainsby, Amelia Harrison and Zoe Walls finishing a further six places back. 

The NE Project outfit have to be congratulated on lining up in the championships for the very first time especially with having two teams in the senior women’s contest.

The senior men’s 4x5k contest was, as usual, the final event on the programme and with dusk rapidly approaching it was a race against time to complete the competition. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop former winners, Morpeth, once again leading the region’s charge.

The quartet of Matthew Walton, Philip Winkler, Matthew Briggs and Connor Marshall finished an excellent 27th out of the 198 teams which started. Sunderland – Michael Wilson, Scott Armstrong, Stephen Jackson and Steve Rankin – were next home for the region in 38th place while, two places and eight seconds further back came Gateshead who lined up with Luca Minale, Jack Douglas, James Cripwell and Matthew Linsley. In 108th place came NE Project’s foursome of Kieran Walker, Jamie Slack, Gary Reay and Jordan Page while the Wallsend quartet of Simon Lyon, Mark Covell, Iain Hall and Martin Crozier finished in 114th place.

It was not an exceptional turn out by NE clubs at a championship which attracts teams from every corner of England but the NE teams which did well done to you all.


Photos: Birtley AC & NE Project

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