Recent wintry weather, accompanied by heavy overnight rain on Friday,
gave way to the inevitable mud-bath for all athletes competing at the annual
UK Inter Counties Cross Country Championships, which also served as the finale
to the UK Cross Challenge, held at Prestwold Hall, near Loughborough,
Leicestershire on Saturday 10th March 2018.
Despite these conditions, it was an exceptionally brilliant day for Morpeth Harrier Rory Leonard,
who won the Under 17 Men’s event by around twenty three seconds, from Cambridge and Coleridge’s Tom Keen, who had won the Bronze medal in the English National Cross Country Championships,
where Leonard had been forced to retire during the event, because of concussion caused by a fall.
On Saturday however, it was a different story altogether, as Leonard, who can now very easily be dubbed the “Lion of Loughborough,” purely for the tenacity of his performance, as he stole away in the last quarter of the event,
to lead the North East Under 17 Men’s squad to a handsome team victory.
In addition to all of this, Leonard also won a very lucrative prize as the winner of the UK Cross Challenge,
with the final being incorporated into the event.
Rory comes from good pedigree, his father Tony being a AAA’s Champion, and a European Bronze Medallist,
and his Mother Sharon, running with the surname of Little, who was twelfth in the Women’s English National Cross Country, and second in the Women’s Northern Cross Country, both of these achievements going back to the early eighty’s.
Assisting Leonard in the North East team victory was his Morpeth Harriers
club colleague Daniel Dixon, who finished in 25th place.
Other counters for the region in this age group were Sam Charlton of Wallsend Harriers,
who finished eleventh, and Josh Cowperthwaite of Middlesbrough AC, who was fourteenth.
Another Morpeth Harrier in the Under 17 Men’s line-up was Daniel Melling,
who was 85th in 281 strong finishing field.
Melling was seventh home for the region.
Although no Morpeth Harriers was involved in the winning and second placed North East Under 13 and Under 15 Boys squads, their efforts on behalf of the region are to be warmly applauded, particularly North Shields Poly’s Josh Blevins, who managed to win himself an individual Silver medal in the Under 13 Boy’s event.
Birtley’s Chris Perkins just missed out on Bronze by a couple of seconds.
The regions Under 15 Boys were led home by New Marske’s Archie Lowe, who finished seventh.
Led by Morpeth Harriers Northern Champion Carl Avery, who produced an excellent run to finish fifth, in what were now atrocious running conditions, the North East Senior Men finished ninth behind winners Middlesex.
The region was third from the North of England behind Lancashire (2nd), and Yorkshire (5th), and Avery was thirty-seven seconds adrift of an individual medal.
Other North East scoring counts for the Senior Men came from Middlesbrough and Cleveland’s Greg Jayasuriya (48th), Gateshead’s Conrad Franks (88th), Sunderland Harrier Kevin Jeffress (94th), who was making his Inter Counties debut, New Marske’s Dean Newton (99th), and Jarrow and Hebburn’s Andy Burn (109th).
Another Morpeth Harrier competing in the Senior Men’s event was Chris Smith, also making his Inter Counties debut, however his run became disastrous, as somewhere in the extremely muddy course his electronic chip became dislodged, and although he finished respectably, his official position could not be recorded.
Led by nineteenth placed North East Champion Kieran Hedley of Morpeth Harriers,
the regions Under 20 Men also finished as ninth team.
Further supporting counts to Hedley came from Middlesbrough AC’s Ben Bergstrand (25th),
Durham AC’s Joseph Grehan-Bradley (63rd), and Houghton’s Cameron Allan (73rd).
The regions Senior Women managed to finish an excellent fifth behind a very rampant Surrey,
who won from Lancaster (2nd), and Yorkshire (3rd).
Danielle Hodgkinson of Birchfield, formerly Wallsend Harriers, led the North East scoring six home, who included Morpeth pair Emma Holt and Jane Hodgson, who both produced excellent runs, to finish 34th and 42nd in a 270-strong finishing field, as second and third counters.
Further supporting counts came from Jarrow and Hebburn pair Georgia Campbell (52nd), and Steph Pattinson (100th), with Sunderland Harrier Alice Smith (102nd), closing the North East score, on her Inter Counties debut.
The North East Under 15 Girls squad also managed to finish as fifth team, behind easy winners Scotland West,
with Scotland East second, and Yorkshire leading the English challenge in third place.
Disappointingly Morpeth’s Holly Peck could not make the region’s scoring four,
when she finished 131st overall in a finishing field of 304.
She was eighth home from the region.
Peck will be hoping for better fortune in this weekend’s English Schools Cross Country Championships in Leeds.
The scoring four were Gateshead’s Ines Curran (25th), Houghton’s Amy Leonard (46th),
Birtley’s Tess Graham (47th), and another Houghton Harrier Lydia James (48th).
There were no Morpeth Harriers in the North East Under 20 Women’s line-up,
who managed to finish eleventh behind winners Kent.
One Morpeth Harrier who can feel very proud and happy with her performance however, is Under 17 Woman Gracie Hufton, who managed to come home as third scorer in a North East squad which finished 13th behind winners Yorkshire.
Hufton’s form has been truly excellent throughout the winter, and she can revel in the fact that she finished a superb 85th in a strong field of 278, which also included an excellent India Pentland of Darlington Harriers, who led the region home by finishing in Bronze medal position, with the other counts in addition coming from Gosforth Harrier Rhian Purves (50th), and Jarrow and Hebburn’s Sophie Robson (92nd).
The regions Under 13 Girls, with no Morpeth Harrier amongst their line-up,
finished as fifteenth team behind winners Kent.
Despite the disappointment of a very much under strength North East Senior Men’s squad not being able to carry out their much accustomed to team victory, the overall performance was still described by respective Team Managers Stewy Bell (Male), and Lynn Cooper (Female) as an excellent day all round for the region,
particularly highlighting the individual medal achievements, along with the three sets of team medals.