ESAA National Championships
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Link to ESAA full results and photos

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In 2001 the Championships were due to be held in Essex but were prevented from being so by the Foot and Mouth epidemic.  This year the venue was to be the same and so it was that the Dorset Schools contingent set out early on Saturday morning to make the long journey to Chelmsford.

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The team had been weakened by illness and injury, with seven enforced changes from the original selection. The journey was not uneventful: just outside Winchester, a pheasant flew into the windscreen of the coach, shattering the glass and necessitating a thirty minute stop on the side of the motorway until a replacement coach arrived. Nevertheless, the team arrived in good time and in good spirits and met up with the small number of athletes who, for various reasons, had travelled up independently.

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 The conditions underfoot in Hylands Park were soft, but muddy only in places. The courses were gently undulating, but the most difficult element for the runners was the very strong wind which blew directly into their faces on the long run-in.  In fact, so strong was the wind that it overturned the huge marquee used at the finish to house the forty-four team managers as they record the finishing positions of their athletes as they pass from the finish funnel to the horde of parents, friends and coaches waiting outside to congratulate or commiserate as appropriate. Fortunately, most of the athletes in the Senior Girls race had already finished and gone through the marquee or the situation might have been calamitous: at the height of proceedings there are usually some two hundred and fifty people in the tent. Team manager, Liz Scott, was one of those in the marquee when it flipped over, and helped to pull people out from the debris of overturned tables, chairs, bags and marquee.  As far as we know, there were no serious injuries, though to see the mangled wreckage after the event one would scarcely have believed this possible.

The best individual performance of the day was, once again, that of Charlotte Moore.  Despite her professed dislike of cross country, the track specialist was always with the leading group in the Senior Girls race and it was only in the finishing straight that she had to yield to her international rival from Northants.  It must be remembered that Charlotte is in the first year of this category as is Anneka Smith who finished a very encouraging 105th.

The best team performance was that of the Junior Girls who finished sixth in the country with five runners in the top hundred. Nikki Hamblin came home a splendid 10th to earn a reserve place for the Home Countries International in two weeks time. Natalie Real, suffering from the debilitating effects of a heavy cold, ran splendidly to finish 16th. Amanda Bailey was also under the weather, but her 57th position is most encouraging given that she is was a year younger than most of her rivals. There were excellent runs by Abbie Lawson who, having missed the coach because a power cut resulted in her alarm not going off and having been driven by car to catch up with the coach during the pheasant-enforced stop, managed a fine 70th while Laura Dixon was justifiably delighted with her 99th position. (How much better it sounds than 100th!).  Hayley Crawford recovered from a fall in the first two hundred metres while Amber Austin came to grief when her legs became entangled in the tape marking the course which had broken in the strongly gusting wind. Such are the perils of Cross Country!

In the Senior Boys, our first finisher was Colin McCourt in 66th place, but the most impressive statistic was that all eight runners finished inside the top two hundred.  I cannot recall the last time Dorset managed to achieve this at Senior Boy level. Indeed, I can recall one year when we had no runners in the top two hundred at all!  Star performances were achieved by Charlie Pitt-Ford and Alex Crutcher, both of whom started at the back of the pen and worked their way through a field of tiring runners. Indeed, there were several examples of athletes who were forced to make somewhat conservative starts because of their pen order, but who benefited from this in the second half of the race. It is true of the London Marathon and true of the ESAA Championships.

Two runners in the top twenty was the achievement of the Inter Boys team. Max Lacy had won every race in his age group this season so far and set off with a vengeance.  At one stage he was lying fourth, but with hindsight this was probably over ambitious given the conditions and his lack of experience. In the final part of the course only determination and raw courage kept him in front of his Dorset team mate, the amazing Sean Hogan who must rank in the top two or three runners of his age in the country, being a young year 10. When he starts to take his running seriously the rest of the country had better watch out!  Robert McTaggart ran an excellent race for 120th while the team finished second in the minor counties category with two of its top four runners missing.

We had three runners in the top hundred in the Junior Boys race, Luke Greenwood coming home in an excellent 38th place. Lathaam Wilson and Aaron Davies will improve as they become more experienced.  County champion James Moubray suffered from an over exuberant start and paid the penalty in the difficult conditions.

The Inter Girls were led home by county champion Lucy Kember in an excellent 105th place. Lucy is a year young in this category and with excellent cardiovascular fitness from her swimming is a fine prospect for next year.

Dorset finished third overall in the Minor Counties boys' category and fourth in the girls'. When both categories are combined, they were third. In what were trying conditions, the team managers did an excellent job: thanks go therefore to Liz Scott, Pete Clarke, Dave Barlow, Ian Dennison and Paul Hart whose experience and calmness under pressure (or in Liz's case, under the marquee) contributed greatly to the success of the day. The support of parents and coaches who made the long journey was much appreciated.  

Next year the championships are scheduled to be held in Brighton.