SAUCONY ENGLISH CROSS COUNTRY RELAYS
HAMPSHIRE CLUB DEDICATE SENIOR WOMEN’S WIN TO YOUNG TEAMMATES KILLED IN CAR ACCIDENT 12 MONTHS EARLIER
Aldershot’s women take emotional women’s title while Tonbridge create history in the men’s event
ARECORD number of more than 1000 teams took to the damp turf of Berry Hill Park in Mansfield last Saturday for what has become the traditional pipe opener to the domestic crosscountry season. Athletes from around the country flocked to the Nottinghamshire venue in search of silverware and a chance to stretch their legs in a fun, team-based environment.
THREE days after the 2016 Saucony English Cross Country Relays, Aldershot youngsters Stacey Burrows and Lucy Pygott died after a drunken soldier hit them with his car while they were on a training run. The tragedy hit the athletics community hard and last weekend in Mansfield their AFD clubmates were determined to win in their memory.
Emily Hosker Thornhill, Emelia Gorecka and Katie
Bingle combined to do this in the senior women’s race. They did this in front of big crowds, too, at an event that continues to grow in popularity and featured record entries last weekend.
The course at Berry Hill Park had been soaked with some overnight rain. But while it might have dampened the spirits of those building bonfires, the athletes did not mind the slightly softer than usual underfoot conditions as they raced through the woods and then past what was surely the largest ever village of club tents at the event in the area near the start and finish.
Aldershot traditionally enjoys success in this event – in 2017 they won five of the ten races – but there was extra motivation to succeed this year and they
faced tough opposition from a Leeds City trio of Claire
Duck, Stevie Stockton and Lucy Crookes, plus the ultra-experienced Charnwood team of Anne Holyland with Juliet and Jane Potter.
Bingle got Aldershot off to a solid start in third on a first stage headed by Katie Holt of City of Stoke from Elle Vernon of Stockport, but then Gorecka showed she is putting her injury problems behind her by building an insurmountable lead on stage two.
During this year Gorecka has been getting back into form under new coach Chris Thompson following stress fractures in her foot in 2015 and she enjoyed ripping around the Berry Hill Park course, despite one or two careless male runners getting in her way at one point by jogging in front of her path.
Handing over to Hosker on the third and final 3km leg, AFD had the race sewn up. The anchor runner maintained the pressure, though, to finish 54 seconds ahead of Leeds, with Charnwood third.
“We were so desperate for the win today because we just wanted to do it for the girls,” said Hosker, who added the athletes were wearing ribbons on their vests in memory of the athletes. “It was the only thought we had. Whenever we were tired in the race, we thought ‘they wouldn’t give up, so we can’t either’.
“It meant so much. I was choking up as I crossed the line. We won’t ever forget them. We think about them the whole time at training. It was so special to win here today.”
Hosker, who is returning from a minor injury, continued: “Katie put in a really solid effort and then Emelia got a really big gap, so when I saw her, I just went and tried to hold it. I had an absolutely huge lead so just had to finish it off really. This event is so much fun as well.”
Gorecka added: “It’s a great team event, particularly for Aldershot at this time of the year with Stacey and Lucy passing away. Every Aldershot athlete was going to have them in their minds on the start line.
“I felt strong in my stage.
The 3km is a bit short for me so it was a bit of a blast but I felt good. I’ve also not been here for the last two or three years so it’s really nice to come back.”
There was no absolute fastest split of the day in the races, as the first stage was a different length to subsequent stages but Gorecka’s speed was surpassed, slightly, by
Jess Judd as the Inter-Counties champion sped around for 19th-placed Chelmsford.
Stockport’s Elle Vernon battles with City of Stoke’s
Kate Holt on stage one
Claire Duck: strong challenge from runners-up, Leeds City
Katie Bingle: third on first leg for winners, AFD
Juliet Potter: bronze for Charnwood
Lucy Crookes: silver medal
Winning team (l to r): Katie Bingle,
Emelia Gorecka and Emily Hosker Thornhill
Shaftesbury’s Naomi Taschimowitz (1254) battles with Cambridge & Coleridge’s Victoria Knight on the opening leg
Helen Clitheroe: still running strong
Emelia Gorecka: powerful second leg