Middlesex Cross Country Championships – Cranford – 5th January 2002

The two reigning London cross country champions both added their county title to their CV at fog-bound Cranford, though neither had everything their own way, Gavin Collett reports. Although a completely flat course sandwiched between Heathrow Airport and the M4 motorway, it was surprisingly tough going as the recent sub-zero conditions relented on the day of the event for the surface to be on the soft side.

Despite being a renowned mudlark, John Downes was relieved the terrain was not even harder on this occasion, having endured a nightmare journey by sea the previous day back from Ireland after a 23:33 five mile personal best there last weekend. It was he and Scott Tompsett, second in that London race at Parliament Hill, who emerged from the pack at the end of the first of three laps, ten seconds clear of James Fitzsimmons, Ian Cunningham, Australian Scott Brittain, last year’s junior champion Richard Williams, Daniel Dalmedo, Christian Bannon and former AAA 1,500m champion Richard Ashe.

As Downes then wore down Tompsett’s resistance on the middle lap, Fitzsimmons extricated himself from the pack in third, as Cunningham and Brittain vied for fourth, Dalmedo moving clear of Ashe in sixth, as Williams decided to call it a day, disappointed to be unable to challenge for an individual medal on his senior debut.

Tompsett suffered a stitch on the closing circuit, but once again claimed the silver medal behind Downes, seeking consolation that he was closer to him on this occasion than over the six-mile Parliament Hill course in November.

For John Downes, it was surprisingly only his third win in this event, having first competed on arrival in the country from Ireland in 1988, but having won in 1991 and 1996. The 1996 Inter Counties champion now heads for the big three – Southern, Inter Counties and National – confident he is getting back towards his best form.

Shaftesbury’s Fitzsimmons held on for the bronze medal, despite a last lap resurgence from Cunningham that saw him half the gap, leaving Brittain in fifth. Richard Ashe rallied for sixth, having the consolation of leading Harrow to their first ever senior team win after 27 attempts.

The opening mile of the women’s race was a cagey affair with seven athletes almost falling over themselves in their reluctance to take the pace on. The biggest surprise here was the appearance of Southern Under 23 champion Sula Young, running without a number as an administration error on the part of her Highgate club had seen her missed off their entry.

After the woodland section towards the end of the lap, the pack had whittled down to three, with Emma Fisher, Rebecca Taylor and Young 20m clear of Sally-Ann Cox, herself 30m ahead of Richard Ashe’s sister, Nicky.

With Fisher pushing the pace in the third mile, only Young could respond, though apparently under instruction from an official not to take the lead or affect the race unduly. With Taylor dropping away, Shaftesbury’s Cox was closing the gap on her, seeking to improve of her best ever placing in this race of third, ten years ago when sporting the colours of Parkside.

The former international three-day eventer Fisher was confident in her finishing speed, having been a sprinter in her schooldays in her native Scotland, though she was unaware that Young was to withdraw from the race after negotiating the difficult ditch with 200m left to run.

Highgate’s error certainly cost Young the silver medal, though she had appeared unlikely to take gold when she dropped out, but it also cost the club dear as, with three other finishers in the top ten, Highgate would easily have taken the team title. As it was, Shaftesbury seized the initiative to snatch the title, lead by Fisher’s win and helped by Cox moving through to take individual silver in the final mile.