Tuesday 30 January 2024

Northern Athletics XC Championships - Sedgefield Jan 2024



AFTER an interlude of 13 years – Herrington Country Park in 2011 -the Northern Cross-Country Championships returned to the region with Sedgefield Harriers, only formed in 2005, hosting what, on reflection, was an excellent day’s sport enjoyed by competitors and spectators alike. With the championships being on our doorstep there was an extremely healthy turn-out from North East club athletes with a number of them making it onto the podium and a number near misses. East Park was the venue and despite the recent heavy rains in the region and cold wind throughout the day, the twisting course was relatively mud-free much to the delight to those facing a long trip home.



The last event on the 10-race programme had anyone with North east connections smiling throughout as the three-lap contest unfolded. Despite a cautious start it wasn’t until around 1,500m that eventual winner Calum Johnson joined the leading group of four, which included Morpeth’s Carl Avery, though it was a ploy the Gateshead and 2020 champion had planned prior to lining up. 

Closing in on the completion of the first circuit Johnson decided it was time to stamp his authority on proceedings and quickly opened up a gap of 30 or so metres which he had extended to 100m at the bell as he strode out relentlessly weaving in and out lapped runners to come home to a rousing cheer from those lining the finishing straight. 

At the line Johnson had opened up a 30-second cushion over double Yorkshire and European Cross representative and last year’s Northern under-20 champion Angus McMillan (City of York) with Blackburn’s Matthew completing the podium placings a further similar distance back in third place. Despite a gritty final lap Avery was just outside the medals finishing in fourth spot 23 seconds behind the bronze medallist. 

Next home from the region was Avery’s Morpeth team-mate Phil Winkler in 15th place followed by Birtley’s Aidrian Bailes (23rd), Ellis Hetherington (Blyth) in 26th and Sunderland’s Stephen Jackson one place and one second further adrift. Special mention to Sedgefield’s Chris Lines, the main instigator on making the championships happen who actually found time to face the starter and cross the finish in 298th place! It was a double whammy for Avery for his 

Morpeth team also missed out on making it onto the podium after closing in their six counters in fourth place. Sunderland finished seventh, Gateshead 10th, North Shields Poly 11th, Durham City 12th, Darlington 13th and Crook 15th.

Before making it to the presentation I caught up with a beaming Johnson who was by no means out of breath after his sterling effort and commented: “I didn’t feel I had to go off really fast at the start and maybe suffer a bit in the later stages so the plan was to pull back the leaders gradually before the completion of the first lap and that’s what I did. Once I hit the front I felt really comfortable and just concentrated all the way to the finish. It was great having so much support all around the course which I greatly appreciated. I can now go into the National – he won in 2020 – and the Inter Counties – which he also won in 2022 – with a lot of confidence.”



North East champion Phillipa Stone came agonisingly close to making it onto the podium for the second year after finishing runner-up 12 months ago at Blackburn. Unfortunately, the Middlesbrough Mandale athlete had to be content with fourth place on this occasion just nine seconds behind the leading trio. 

Finding 8.1k no problem to former Commonwealth Games 800m representative, North Shields Poly’s Charlotte Penfold was next North East finisher in an excellent 16th place followed by Durham City’s Louise Mitchell (19th), Catriona MacDonald (Morpeth) was 24th, Gateshead’s Shona Haston 30th, former under-17 national champion Elswick’s Justina Heslop 31st, Wallsend’s Jenny Berry 37th and Durham City’s Nicole Burlinson was 39th. Former Gosforth athletes, now competing for Sale, Helen Warburton and Hariett Buswell, finished 18th and 44th respectively. 

Durham City were the region’s first team to close in in seventh place followed by Elswick, 9th, North Shields Poly were 10th, Jesmond Joggers 13th, Birtley 14th and Tyne Bridge 15th.



Last year Josh Blevins finished in 13thth place in this age group in Blackburn, however the Gateshead athlete made a mockery of that result with an exhibition of how to front run despite it not being in the pre-race plan. Blevins took an early lead on the first of two circuits and was never headed as the field spreadeagled behind him and at the line, Blevins, who won the Northern at under-13 level back in 2005 as a North Shields Poly athlete, had 22 seconds over his nearest rival. 

Afterwards, Blevins commented on his performance saying: I was happy with that, two laps over 8k is a tough ask for me but I think I handled it rather well though on the second circuit I was wondering to myself ’had I gone too early.’ I worked really hard on that second lap which sets me up nicely for the BUCS next weekend.” 

Just missing out on an individual medal was Morpeth’s William De Vere Owen. After putting in a strong second lap the Northumbrian crossed the line just 13 seconds adrift of the bronze medallist. Next home was fellow Morpeth athlete Joe Dixon in seventh place followed by Blackhill’s Duncan Hughes in 11th. Middlesbrough’s Max Creasey finished 18th, followed by Bertie Marr (Morpeth) 20th, Zak Kettle (Tyne Bridge) 23rd and Sunderland’s Alex Seed 24th. With their three scorers inside the top 20 Morpeth were clear team winners; Gateshead finished sixth and Durham City seventh.



In the smallest field of the day – just 37 finishers – North Shields Poly’s Holly Waugh was the region’s leading athlete finishing in 13th place. Birtley’s Katie Francis was next in 18th followed one place behind by Elswick’s Imogen Bungay with the Poly’s Katie Joslyn next at 28th. Gosforth’s Alice Lewis finished 31st, NSP’s Mili Diddee was 32nd and Durham City’s Shauna Portwine 37th. North Shields Poly were the only NE team to finish a team in fourth place.

UNDER-17 MEN (5.7k)

North Shields Poly’s Ben Sproats missed out on making the podium by an agonising 11 seconds despite producing a strong second lap. It was an excellent performance after going into the contest on the back of his victory in the Sherman Cup three weeks earlier. Elliot Kelso (Morpeth) was next NE athlete to finish in 11th place with Crook’s Rory Hart finishing 20th, Alex Boyer (Darlington) 21st followed by Middlesbrough’s Jacob Brown one place further back. North Shields Poly were the only NE outfit to close in a team in seventh place.


UNDER-17 WOMEN (4.7k)

North East champion Charlotte Dillon just missed making it onto the podium for a second year running after finishing runner-up 12 months ago in Blackburn. This time round the Houghton athlete finished in fourth place just 13 seconds behind the bronze medallist. Following her home was Darlington’s Zara Zones in fifth position. Blaydon’s Ellie Fellows was next NE athlete to finish in16th place then came Iona Johnstone (Gateshead) 20th closely followed by Blackhill’s Hatti Stead in 22nd place. Poppy Old was next in 27th leading the Poly to team bronze medals, the other members being Amelie Sillence (36th), Darcy Tullis (47th) and Hannah Atkinson in 57th place. Elswick, led home by 42nd-placed Erin Blight, finished fifth.


UNDER-15 BOYS (3.8k)

TS Harriers’ Dawit Asmelash led the region’s charge to finish an excellent 10th just getting the bragging rights over Gateshead’s Alfie Cook who finish just one place and four seconds adrift of the Teessider. 

New Marske’s Zander Gribbon was next NE runner home in 17th position then came a host of NE representatives: Arthur DiLullo (Tynedale) 23rd, Noah Williamson (NE Project) 24th, Freddie Palmer (Tyne Bridge) 26th, Rowan Steel (Darlington) 27th and Middlesbrough’s Charlie Jones in 28th spot. In the team stakes Darlington finished fifth, Tyne Bridge were eighth and Sunderland ninth.

UNDER-15 GIRLS (3.8k)

Anna Johnson was first NE athlete home finishing in 15th place one place and two seconds ahead of Houghton’s Holly Robison. Durham City’s Grace Carter was next across the line in 20th spot closely followed by Houghton’s Kathryn Pye in 21st place. Then came Darlington’s duo Matilda Owens (25th) and Charlotte Owens (29th) with Durham City’s Evie Hall in 31st position three seconds behind Charlotte. Durham City finished 10th and Darlington 12th in the team section.


UNDER-13 BOYS (2.9k)

A great result for the region with the first two athletes home representing NE clubs. Victory went to Middlesbrough’s Thomas McCartie, Thomas admitting afterwards that it was a tough course but was extremely happy to have won. Morpeth’s Ewan Line came through strongly in the later stages to claim the silver medal, crossing the line 16 seconds behind the Teessider. Tynedale’s Wilfred Pugh was next NE athlete to finish in 10th position; Darlington’s Ollie Curran finished 12th and a superb run by Henry Engelhart saw the Phoenix Flyers’ athlete finish 16th, two places ahead of Elswick’s Dominic Kelso. In the team section, Darlington finished sixth, Tynedale were eighth, Elswick ninth and Tyne Bridge 11th.

UNDER-13 GIRLS (2.9k)

Gabrielle Pinder (New Marske) missed out on a medal place by the narrowest of margins as she crossed the line just one second adrift of the bronze medallist. It was an exceptionally good run by the Teessider who finished runner-up in the NE Championships at Temple Park before Christmas. Next NE runner home was Alnwick’s Emilia Waugh in 14th place, Birtley’s Izzy Hall was 18th, Elswick’s Aylia Blight was 19th, Kitty Graham (Birtley) 23rd, Emma Blackburn (Gateshead) 32nd, Sasha Patterson (Darlington) 36th, Faye Heatley (Morpeth) 41st and Evie Kleiser (Phoenix Flyers) 44th. In the team section Morpeth finished in eighth place and Elswick ninth.


**A great Championship thanks in a big way to Sedgefield Harriers whose marshalls were superb giving encouragement to everyone throughout the long day. Congratulations to all the region’s athletes who took part whether a medal winner or not. Thanks also go to Start Fitness for their continued support to Northern Athletics and to all the NE officials who manned their posts diligently from first to last event.

Results: Here

Photos - Stuart Whitman Photography & Mick Hall Photos

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