Gema Steel (coach: John Nuttall, Charnwood) and Ross Millington (Steve Vernon, Stockport) won the senior/U23 women’s and men’s races respectively at the highly competitive Liverpool Cross Challenge, which also incorporated the trials for the European Cross Country Championships in Hyeres, France next month.2014 Euro cross champion Steel made it three wins in a row at Sefton Park and showed the sort of form which saw her win her first European title last year. However, the Charnwood athlete did not have it all her own way in the pouring rain as Kate Avery (Tony Simmons, Shildon) pushed her all the way, reminiscent of that memorable race in Samokov last year. Nevertheless, it was a similar outcome on Merseyside as Steel held off Avery and Steph Twell (Mick Woods, Aldershot Farnham & District), who was in contention for most of the race.
Steel said afterwards: “I’ve done the hat trick! You can never underestimate the likes of Steph and Kate; I’ve never raced her (Avery) on this course before. I thought I’d slipped up a bit on the final corner and it brought back memories of Samokov.
“It’s got rid of the rust; it was my first cross country race of the season. It’s given me such a big boost ahead of the Europeans though. It would be nice to win a medal in France and keep my medal winning streak going.”
Elle Vernon (Vernon, Stockport) was fourth after a strong second half to her race to finish ahead of Laura Muir (Andy Young, Dundee Hawkshill), fifth in the 1500m world championships final in August, who confirmed her place in the U23 team heading to the south of France.
Muir said afterwards: “I went for it – I’m pleased to have finished highly and book my place in France. It will be a lot faster course out there and hopefully better weather as well.”
Millington earned one of the wins of his career to take the Liverpool title. It was the Stockport athlete’s first appearance over cross country this season but he was in impressive form to collect maximum Cross Challenge points and a place on the British team. He made his move as they entered the final lap alongside training partner Tom Lancashire (Vernon, Bolton Harriers) who eventually finished third, and continued to widen the gap over the last kilometre.
Millington, who finished 27th in the senior men’s race in Bulgaria last December said: “The big race is in two weeks (Euro cross) so today was just about ticking a box. I felt alright so I gave it a good go. Myself and Tom (Lancashire) have been in Kenya for a month so we are both fit – we have been running every day, twice a day for a month so it shows what we have been doing has worked.”
Dewi Griffiths (Kevin Evans, Swansea Harriers) continued his fine recent form to consolidate second place. Jonny Hay (Woods, AFD) improved from his display at the first Cross Challenge in Milton Keynes to grab the fourth and final automatic qualification spot for the Euro cross. Adam Hickey (Eamonn Martin, Southend) and Jonny Taylor (Gordon Surtees, Morpeth) rounded out the top six.
One of the closest races of the day came in the junior women’s race as Bobby Clay (Rob Denmark, Invicta East Kent) edged out the rapidly-improving Harriet Knowles-Jones (Paul Roden, Warrington). Clay was a dominant force at the Milton Keynes event but Knowles-Jones was just edged out in the final 200m as the European junior 1500m champion showed her strength in the closing stages.
Clay commented: “It was tough, she gave me a task and a half but it’s what I need. I knew the girls were going to have fire in their bellies but I’m thankful that the competition was so high. It was a good race but there are certainly things to work on. The lessons I’ve learned from this race are going to be invaluable and hopefully I can learn from them and run well at the Euro cross.”
Amy Griffiths (Woods, AFD) was third with Mari Smith (William Alan Winter, Leicester) and Sabrina Sinha (Peter Mullervy, Cambridge Harriers) closing out the top five. Sinha was also the winner of the U17 women’s race.
Ben Djikstra (Leicester Corinthians) showed his obvious talent to pull away from the rest of the field in the home straight to earn his first Cross Challenge win of the season. He was beaten by Mahamed Mahamed (Peter Haynes, Southampton) at Teardrop Lakes but was patient on the final lap as a group of six vied for the top prize. He overtook IAAF world youth 3000m finalist Alex Yee (Kenneth Pike, Kent) to snatch the victory, with Southampton’s Mahamed in third. Chris Olley (Mark Hookway, Tonbridge) was next home and Oliver Fox (Richard Llewelyn Eaton, Wells City) was the fifth finisher.
Djikstra spoke afterwards: “It was a pretty awesome race. I’ve raced well here in the past so I was looking forward to it. I really wanted that selection for the Europeans – I’m really stoked to be racing in France. I’m still an under 17 so racing against such a stacked race was a great experience but good to be competitive in that sort of environment.”
Tom Mortimer (Christopher Brown, Stroud) was a commanding winner in the U17 men’s race, with those athletes enduring the start of the deteriorating weather on Merseyside. It was his first victories in this age group in the Cross Challenge.
Zakariya Mahamed (Haynes, Southampton) made it a Cross Challenge double, picking up where he left off in Milton Keynes to earn another victory at Sefton Park. In the women’s equivalent, Olivia Mason (Graeme Mason, Border) made a great debut in the U15 age-group, convincingly winning the race. She was second in the U13 race in 2014 but has seen great improvements over the last year to claim her first Cross Challenge victory.
Tommy Dawson (Leeds City) won the Yorkshire battle in the U13B race ahead of Finlay Pickering (Kingston upon-Hull). He was second in Milton Keynes earlier this month but made sure he earned the full Challenge points at the second leg. Lily-Jane Evans-Haggerty (Victoria Park City of Glasgow) triumphed in the U13G race, earning the sole Scottish victory on the day.
Louie Mccormack (Neil Canham, Trafford) and Holly Weedall (Vale Royal) won the U11 races which kicked off the action in the Liverpool Parks.
Full results will be available on the British Athletics website later this evening.