Friday 3 February 2023

North East at the Northern XC Championships 2023



A TOTAL of eight individual and two sets of team medals was the order of the day for North East athletes as they produced impressive performances throughout the 10-race programme at the Northern Cross-Country Championships on a grey day at Blackburn’s Witton Park.

The area championships returned to the popular venue after an absence of seven years and once again the ‘testing’ twisting course of hills and extremely muddy sections proved to be a real challenge for around 200 or so NE competitors who crossed the Pennines in search of glory or otherwise.

It was no surprise the all-conquering Birtley under-13 girls squad took the major honours with victory going to Olivia Murphy who covered the 3.2k circuit in 12min 18sec, to finish 13 seconds clear of Rotherham’s Maya Schofield with Murphy’s team-mate Kitty Graham a further five seconds adrift in third place. This winter the Birtley team have taken all before them having won the National cross-country and National road relay championships as well as lifting the Northern equivalents so it came as no surprise as the topped the podium on this occasion with fourth-placed Nell Graham and Niamh Philipson (28th) backing up the two individual medalists.

After stepping off the podium Murphy commented: “I’ve been running well recently and felt reasonably confident but you never know how it will turn out when you run against girls I haven’t raced against before. But naturally, I’m pleased with my run and I really enjoyed the course though the hills were tough and I’m happy for everyone that we won the team race once again.’’

Apart from the Birtley quartet there were also good performances from Houghton’s Kathryn Pye, who finished 13th, North Shields Poly’s Katy Otterson, who followed her home one place behind and

Gateshead’s Emma Blackburn who crossed the line in 15th position. Darlington was the only other NE club to finish a team and, led home by Matilda Owens (38th) closed in in 10th place.

In the under-17 men’s 5.9k contest Morpeth’s Joe Dixon came within one second of being crowned champion after being agonising held on the run to the line by Liverpool’s Liam McKay. It was an intriguing race with the Northumbrian doing his share at the head of the field but it was the Merseyside champion who proved the stronger. Following the duo home in third place was fit-again Houghton athlete Brandon Pye as the medallists finished well clear of the chasing pack.

Dixon, who won the Northumberland Schools’ title in the run up to the championships, was eighth in the Northern’s last year, said he was pleased with his run but slightly disappointed to come so close to winning. “I was always in contention at the front of the field after going off fast from the start and was confident as the race unfolded but it was on the final downhill section that I slipped behind though I was clawing back the leader on the long run to the finish.’’ Pye, meanwhile, was also a happy athlete after making it onto the podium for the second year running after finishing runner-up 12 months ago in Pontefract. “My last race was last November and I haven’t been able to train since then after picking up an injury. I’ve only had four real sessions going into this race so to pick up a bronze medal is so gratifying, before hand I didn’t think that was possible.

I’m very tired but very happy.’’

Morpeth were very impressive team gold medallists with their four counters all finishing inside the top 14. Backing up Dixon on the top of the podium were ninth-placed William de Vere-Owen, Bertie Marr (13th) and Liam Roche who was 14th. For good measure the

Northumbrians also had Ryan Davies (19th) and Elliot Kelso, who was 21st. Middlesbrough were the only other NE team to close in in seventh spot.

In the under-17 women’s 5.3k race Durham City’s NE champion Charlotte Dillon made a brave effort to add the Northern title to her name despite having just moved up an age group this season. However, after being in the lead for part of the time she had to give way to Wharfedale’s Amelie Lane. The Yorkshire bronze medallist, a second year at under-17, proved the stronger in the closing stages to cross the line four seconds clear. “We quickly found ourselves detached at the head of the field and we ran together for much of the race working hard over the difficult course and it paid off though I was tiring towards the end I was delighted to hang on to finish second,’’ confessed Dillon. Next home from the region was Elswick’s Poppy Old who finished 10th, two places ahead of Gateshead’s Iona Johnstone with Gosforth’s Emma Ashman crossing the line in 22nd spot. North Shields Poly, led home by Milli Diddee in 37th place, finished fifth team.

Having missed out on the NE Championships and Sherman Cup races through injury Morpeth’s Oliver Calvert came within three seconds of topping the podium in the under-15 boys 4.3k contest. The Northumbrian, having moved up an age group, was running side-byside with last year’s fifth-placed finisher George Wilson of Cleethorpes and it was the Lincolnshire champion who gained the upper hand over the final kilometre to cross the line three seconds clear with Calvert holding off the fast-finishing Matthew Clark (Preston) by one second to claim the runners-up spot. 

“Naturally, I’m delighted with second place but I think missing the North Eastern’s and the Sherman Cup races took the edge off my fitness a bit but you’ll never know if it would have made a difference. In the end though there’s always next year as I’ll still be an under-15.’’ North Shields Poly were the only other team to finish with Daniel Watson (50th) and Matthew Maley (51st) leading them to ninth place. 

When the last time the championships were held in Blackburn seven years ago Middlesbrough’s Philippa Stone finished runner-up in the under-20 race and this time round the Teessider duplicated that position with a tenacious performance in the senior women’s contest over 7.4k. 

Eight races into the programme the muddy sections of the course resembled a quagmire and it was to the firmer parts of the course Stone felt happier and it so proved as she moved through from fourth to second on the long run to the line to finish behind former Elswick athlete and current Yorkshire champion, Philippa Williams. “That’s my second silver medal on this course,” said a happy Stone after recovering her composure. “I’m over the moon with that for I kept telling myself my 1500 metres speed will help when we hit the hard ground and it did so I’m absolutely delighted.” Morpeth’s Catriona MacDonald was next NE finisher in 19th place with North Shields Poly, led home by Commonwealth Games 800m finalist Charlotte Penfold (41st) finished seventh team.

Tyne Bridge finished 20th and Heaton 28th.

The senior men’s 11.5k brought the curtain down on an excellent championship and it was a bitter-sweet performance by Morpeth’s Carl Avery whose brave effort of repeating his gold medal performance at Harewood in 2018 was only thwarted by Salford’s Joe Steward after the duo had dominated the contest throughout after they broke away well before the half-way stage. Avery, who also finished in second place at Pontefract in 2019, ran shoulder-to shoulder with the recently-crowned Greater Manchester champion, and, after an absorbing contest it was the mountain running specialist who managed to prevail. Steward, whose pedigree includes a second place in the National in 2020, eventually crossed the line nine seconds clear of Avery, who eased home after realising he was well clear of the rest of his rivals. 

Despite being pushed back into second place, Avery was still happy with his performance saying: “I gave it my all, it was a great race but Joe just got the better of me going up the hills. While I tried to push it on the downward sections and on the flat he managed to stick with me like a limpet. Despite losing out I really enjoyed the race.’’ Next home for the NE was Morpeth team-mate Phil Winkler who had a great race to finish in 19th place. Evergreen Greg Jayasuriya (Middlesbrough and Cleveland) finished 23rd with fellow Teessider Kieran Walker (NE Project) next best in 36th spot. Morpeth, who won the team title in 2015, were once again the leading outfit from the region finishing in sixth place. Tyne Bridge were 16th, Durham City 17th, Sunderland 19th, Wallsend 25th, North Shields Poly 30th and Elswick 34th.

In the Under-20 women’s event North Shields Poly’s Holly Waugh finished an excellent 10th after moving up an age group. Waugh was happy with her performance though admitting it was difficult to stay on her feet in places. “I started off steady and moved through as the race progressed and tried not to fall over!”

In the under-15 girls 4.3k event Gosforth’s Annie Hutchinson was first NE finisher in 20th place, three positions ahead of Durham City’s Grace Carter, In the team event North Shields Poly, led by Hannah Atkinson, finished ninth with Tyne Bridge, Ruby Colver their best, in 10th spot.

In the under-13 boys’ championship, Noah Williamson (NE Project) finished an excellent seventh with Darlington’s Rowan Steele next home in 10th place, ever-improving James Sturman (NSP) finished 14th followed by Heaton’s Alex Smith who was 21st. Steele led Darlington to sixth place with Tyne Bridge finishing in 13th place.

Josh Blevins was the pick of the NE line up in the under-20 men’s 7.4k contest finishing in 13th place with Houghton’s Chris Coulson next home in 24th spot. In the team stakes Durham City, led home by Morgan Kendall, finished eighth, one place ahead of Sunderland whose leading runner was Adam Hughes.

*Congratulations, not just to all the medalists, but to all the North East competitors who travelled to Blackburn, you were all winners in my book.



Photos: George S Davies - Northern Athletics Facebook Page  

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