South West Counties Cross Country Championships 2002
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Taunton Racecourse

Saturday 2nd February 2002

 The seven counties which form the South West Schools' Athletic Association came together on a wind and rain swept Taunton Racecourse to dispute their annual championships.  The strengths and weaknesses of the Dorset contingent were apparent after the County Championships held a fortnight earlier in Weymouth, but illness, injury and other commitments took their toll and a slightly below-par squad was on duty against the best that Avon, Cornwall, Devon. Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire could muster.

Nevertheless, with two individual gold medals and three individual silvers, as well as two winning team performances, the Dorset runners and team managers had every reason to be pleased with the afternoon.  No other county was able to boast as impressive a medal haul.

Pride of place must go to the Junior Girls' team. Nikki Hamblin led for much of the race shadowed by her Dorset rival, Natalie Real. In the final stages and through the heavy, muddy conditions, Natalie used her strength to reverse the positions in the county championships,  Amanda Bailey, one year younger than Dorset's top pair, challenged for the lead at one stage, but was forced to yield to her older rivals.  She can be well pleased with her fifth place. With Abbie Lawson also in the top ten and Amber Austin just outside, the team race was never in doubt.

Last year the Senior Boys won the team title and they repeated the feat this time, though the result could scarcely have been closer. For much of the early part of the race, county champion, Tom Oliver, and English Schools Intermediate 3000m champion, Colin McCourt, were among the leading runners. As the mud took its toll over the seven kilometre course, it was, surprisingly, the track specialist who came through the stronger, though behind them, Richard Beasley was having one of his best ever runs, finishing eleventh. In 23rd place, Charlie Lawrence outsprinted his Somerset rival, without realising that the overall team position hinged on the outcome of their personal battle.  He finished just three second clear, but that was sufficient to win the title for Dorset, who scored the same number of points as the host county, Somerset.

The Senior Girls' team were a fine second, despite the absence of the first two in the county championships. With only twelve places and twenty eight seconds covering the scoring six, they succeeded in recording the best Dorset Senior Girls' result for many years.

There was a second team place for the Minor Girls team for whom Georgina Varley and Hannah Stammas reversed their finishing order from Weymouth.

The Minor Boys finished fourth with county champion, Jack Trivett, recording a splendid fourth place in his first outing for the county schools' team.

Although they "only" finished fourth, the Intermediate Boys team saw another one-two for Dorset.  Max Lacy, fresh from an outstanding run on Wednesday for his school in the prestigious King Henry VIII Coventry relay,  continued his rich vein of form to win impressively. It was, however, the performance of Sean Hogan in second place that, perhaps, caught the eye. A year younger than most of his rivals, he finished twelve seconds down on his team mate, but ahead of some nationally ranked athletes from other counties.  An excellent run from the ever-reliable Antony Morris in eighth place was not enough to compensate for the absence of one of the county's top runners and the forced withdrawal of Andy Borthwick during the race.  A full strength squad would undoubtedly have won another trophy for Dorset.

In the Junior Boys there was an excellent run by James Mowbray in second place. The team finished sixth.

The Inter Girls struggled against the elements and the opposition, but managed to finish with a scoring team, unlike some of the other counties. Indeed, Dorset was one of only three counties that managed to finish scoring teams in all eight races.

Many thanks to the team managers, particularly Pete Clarke, for coping so well despite the trying conditions and to the many parents who came and supported - their presence and their vocal encouragement were much appreciated.  

Peter Fryer

Chairman Dorset Schools Athletic Association.