Photos by Dave Hewitson more at www.sportsforallpics.co.uk
IT WAS Come on Calum, Come on Calum in the final race of the day at the Inter-Counties Cross-Country Championships at Prestwold Hall, Loughborough and the huge support for the North East champion helped him surge home to a popular victory in the senior men’s 10k contest.
However, his success didn’t bear fruit when the totting up for team awards were announced as the region’s squad were down in fifth place much to the surprise of team manager Stewy Bell who had worked it out that his charges had finished in third spot.
While everyone was in a hurry to dash off home Bell was seen to discuss the problem with the race referee and the chip timing company re the fact that the NE’s third counter, Kieran Walker, was missing from the results. By all accounts video footage definitely showed the NE Project athlete crossing the finish line in 49th place but there was no sign of a chip on his ankle subsequently the ‘No chip, No Time’ rule came into play the referee’s decision on these matters is final.
It was a harsh outcome for it would have been an excellent reward for the depleted squad which had lost four of the original selection leaving Bell with just eight athletes to contest the 10k course made tricky due to the previous day’s heavy rain.
After the initial quick charge up the hill Johnson, who only decided to take his chance a few days earlier, found a wall of rivals ahead of him but he called on all his experience to gradually move up into the chasing pack behind the early pacesetters. Around half-way Johnson was still around 100 metres adrift of the leaders but he slowly but slowly closed the gap and by the final circuit was on the shoulder of Zak Mahamed who had finished fourth in the National two weeks earlier and finished runner-up in the BUCS previously to that. The momentum was now with the North East champion and it came as no surprise as they came into a crowded finishing straight it was Johnson who was roared all the way home to cross the line 21 seconds ahead of the Hampshire representative.
As he crossed the finish Johnson had a smile as wide as the Tyne – no tears this time - which said a lot for the athlete who will make his marathon debut in Wrexham at the end of next month which, hopefully, will lead to a call up for a major championship.
Johnson missed the National last month – he won in 2020 - for he felt he wasn’t quite right after having Covid over the New Year period so it was the Inter-Counties and the North East and Gateshead which benefitted from his appearance.
Before heading for the medal ceremony Johnson had this to say: “I was quite relaxed but after the fast start which often catches me out I think I was back in the 30s or 40s and by the first kilometre I managed to move through into the chasing group as two lads had moved way ahead. “Around half-way I was on the shoulder of one of the athletes with Zak now way ahead on his own. Conditions had worsened as the race progressed, it was very sticky with ankle deep mud in many places which suited me and I could see the gap shortening all the while so much so I eventually found myself in the lead and it was then a case of keeping my concentration all the way to the finish. Just like when I won the National it’s a great feeling coming home with everyone cheering you on, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Next home for the North East was county debutant and recently-crowned North East Masters champion, Jarlath McKenna who ran superbly to finish in 24th place less than two minutes behind Johnson. Then came Walker in 49th; Sunderland’s Stephen Jackson, one of the late replacements, was next in 64th place, evergreen Phil Wylie was close behind in 69th then came Gateshead’s Conrad Franks and Greg Jayasuriya (Middlesbrough and Cleveland) locked together in 81st and 82nd places with Morpeth’s Sam Hancox who decided to miss a Fast 5k on the same day after being asked if he would consider lining up in the Inter Counties just 48 hours before off time and finished a highly-creditable 86th.
Bell admitted that the depleted squad had run their socks off and while he was disappointed with the outcome team wise he was delighted for Calum and would not be drawn on picking out any of the rest of the team for special mention. “In one way it was a nice way to end the day but it certainly could have been better. I’m gutted for the rest of the lads for their efforts certainly should have been rewarded.’’
SENIOR WOMEN (8k)
THE Multi-coloured North East vest was visable among the leaders throughout the contest thanks to Shildon’s Kate Avery who has been a regular Inter-Counties representative since making her county debut in the under-13 age group.
Once the near 300-strong field settled Avery was with eventual winner and runner-up Mhairi MacLennan (Scotland East) and Oxfordshire’s Jessica Gibbon. Around the mid-way point MacLennan, who spent a short time in the North East with Morpeth Harriers, gradually upped the tempo with Avery struggling to stay in touch while behind the gaps became wider due to the sapping conditions.
MacLennan kept up the momentum all the way to the finish to win by eight seconds with Gibbon in second place 43 seconds clear of Avery.
Before setting off for her warm down Avery’s first words were: “How’s the team done?” which, when told they had finished in fifth place she added “that’s tough, it would have been great for the other girls and also to add another medal to my collection!”
Morpeth’s Cat MacDonald was closest at the finish in 28th place; Durham City’s Emma Bradley came 28th; while Amy Fuller (Elswick) was 53rd; Alex Sneddon (Jarrow and Hebburn) was 59th with Eleanor Bradbury (Blaydon) closing in the six to score in 112th place. Molly Pace (North Shields Poly) was 116th; Katarina Bonner (Elswick) was 123rd with late call-up Judith Nutt (Elswick) in 168th place.
Women’s team manager Lynn Cooper thought fifth place overall was a great result and was full of praise for Avery’s bronze medal run and also for Nutt who she thought did the team proud against many younger rivals.
UNDER-20 MEN (8k)
THIS was the opening event on the 10-race programme and the 180 or so starters got the best of the conditions before the course cut up as the day progressed.
In-form Houghton athlete Chris Coulson led the region’s charge to eventually finish in 31st place with his Houghton team-mate Will Bellamy, after a cautious start, next home in 46th position. Jarrow and Hebburn’s Peter Smallcombe finished in 57th place with Duncan Hughes (Blackhill Bounders) completing the four-to-score in 65th spot to close in the team in seventh place. Tynedale’s Charlie Daley finished 69th; Ryan Eden (North Shields Poly) was 120th; Sunderland’s Alex Seed was 137th and Morpeth’s Joseph Anderson finished 151st.
UNDER-20 WOMEN (6k)
HOUGHTON’S Anna Pigford led the region’s charge with one of her best runs to date to finish an excellent 19th despite finishing shoeless! Chester-le-Street’s Emily Chong was next home in 26th place followed by Birtley’s Tess Graham (38th) and Gateshead’s Lydia James (54th) with the team finishing just outside of the medals in fourth place. Backing up the scoring quartet were Houghton’s Any Leonard (87th) and Gosforth’s Carys Purves, who was 98th.
UNDER-17 MEN (6k)
LED home by a superb fourth-place finish by Houghton’s Brandon Pye the County claimed the bronze awards in the team section. Pye, ninth in the National at Parliament Hill, has grown in confidence since finishing second in the North East Championships in Sedgefield before Christmas and it was a close-run thing to claim an individual award, missing out by just four seconds. Gateshead’s Josh Blevins, the Northumberland Schools’ champion, was next home in an excellent 12th place with Morpeth’s William De Vere Owen (46th) and Sunderland’s Adam Hughes (52nd) completing the scoring four. Backing the medalists up were Blackhill’s Tom Slane in 55th place; Gosforth’s Silas Christie was 96th; Morpeth’s Bertie Marr was 111th and Gosforth’s Ethan Bond was 153rd.
UNDER-17 WOMEN (5k)
MORPETH’S Millie Breese led the region’s charge, finishing in 20th place in a highly-competitive contest. Breese finished just over a minute outside a medal spot as the conditions worsened due to the earlier contests. North Shields Poly’s Holly Waugh was next home in 44th place followed by Gateshead’s Jessica Milburn (50th) and Elswick’s Imogen Bungay who closed in the scoring four in 55th spot for a very respectable seventh place. Backing the quartet up were: Tynedale’s Jess Sails (62nd); Birtley’s Katie Francis (64th); Blackhill’s Hannah Bowyer (66th) and 70th-placed Ellie Van Der Mere (Morpeth).
UNDER-15 BOYS (4k)
NORTH Shields Poly’s Ben Sproats was the leading North East athlete home finishing in 43rd place and was then followed by Morpeth’s Oliver Calvert in 51st position. His Morpeth team-mate Oliver Tomlinson was next home in 59th place with Darlington’s Sylvan Tarn completing the scoring quartet in 80th place to finish in 11th position in the team stakes. Non scorers were: Elliot Kelso (Elswick) 88th; Joseph Close (Morpeth) 95th; Ethan Marron (Middlesbrough Mandale) 206th and Alex Boyer (Darlington) 234th.
UNDER-15 GIRLS (4k)
DURHAM City’s Charlotte Dillon led the region’s charge to a superb team bronze after finishing in ninth place. The North East champion was always up with the leaders and at the line was only a few seconds off making it on to the podium for an individual medal. Backing up Dillon was Darlington’s Zara Jones in 23rd position; Elswick’s Poppy Old was 56th and Middlesbrough Mandale’s Eden Creasey completed the quartet in 50th place. The team’s non-scorers were: Iona Johnstone (Gateshead) 67th; Freya Talman (Darlington) 75th; Ellie Fellows (Blaydon) 95th and Annie Hutchinson (Gosforth) 102nd.
UNDER-13 BOYS (3k)
TS Harriers, based in the Tees Valley, is the region’s youngest club having been formed just two years ago but already they have plenty to celebrate after their first-ever County representative returned from a major championship with a medal. Dawit Asmelash, who had finished runner-up in the County Championships in Sedgefield, belied his tender age and experience to lead the team home in second place after a superb sixth-place finish. Middlesbrough Mandale’s Charlie Jones finished 14 seconds behind Asmelash in 11th place with pocket dynamo Noah Williamson (Birtley) next home in 23rd position followed by Blaydon’s Jamie Lonergan who was the team’s final counter in 48th spot to give the North East a total of 88 points just nine points adrift of winners Surrey.
UNDER-13 GIRLS (3k)
WITH most of the girls having their first taste of a major championship it wasn’t surprising that they found the going tough against more seasoned rivals. North Shields Poly’s Katy Otterson was first home for the North East finishing in 43rd place followed by Heaton’s Mary Parkin in 67th position. Birtley’s Niamh Phillipson and North Shields Poly’s Anna Johnson completed the team’s scoring quartet in 83rd and 96th places respectively to finish a creditable 11th out of the 40 teams which finished.
The County’s non-scorers were: Ruby Dann (North Shields Poly) 111th; Sophie Quinn (Middlesbrough Mandale) 112th; Grace Carter (Durham City) 113th and Taylor Jett Miller (Chester-le-Street) 168th.
Bill McGuirk is the North East's top athletics correspondent. NECAA Chairman and official, Bill can be found at all local athletics events supporting the sport he loves.