10th March 2017
Loughborough Cross Challenge Preview
Loughborough’s Prestwold Hall will play host to the British Athletics Inter-Counties Championships this coming Saturday (March 11) as the cross country season draws to a close for the 2016/17 season.
The meeting will also serve as the fifth and final edition of the 2016/17 Cross Challenge series alongside the British Athletics junior trials for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, with the first three juniors over the line (including u17s) sealing automatic qualification for the junior race at the championships in Kampala, Uganda on March 26.
In regards to the Cross Challenge element of proceedings, there are double series points up for grabs to athletes who have raced at a minimum of two other meetings within the 2016/17 series.
Of the senior men, Andy Vernon (coach: Nic Bideau, club: Aldershot, Farnham & District) heads into Saturday’s race in pole position for the title, with his two best performances of the 2016/17 Cross Challenge series – victories in Milton Keynes and Antrim – combining to see him top the rankings table with 109 points.
Confirmed as entrants and also vying for the senior men’s Cross Challenge title are defending champion Dewi Griffiths (Kevin Evans, Swansea) and fellow European Cross team gold medallist Ben Connor (Spencer Duval, Derby), with both athletes, like Vernon, on totals exceeding 100 points heading into the meeting.
In the women’s series equivalent – and with standings leader Pippa Woolven (Luke Gunn, Wycombe Phoenix) not due to compete in Loughborough – the strongest push for the title looks set to come from the recently crowned English National Champion Jess Judd (Mick Judd, Chelmsford AC), who sits in second place on 108 points.
In the same race, 2014 Euro Cross champion Gemma Steel (Rob Denmark, Charnwood AC) and Katrina Wootton (Harvey Rose, Coventry Godiva), both of whom are also in contention for the title on 103 and 102 points respectively, are also set to take the start line on Saturday
The men’s junior title looks to be a close-run thing, with joint leaders Hugo Milner (Derby) and Jonathan Shields (Michael Thompson, Sheffield & Dearne) spearheading the provisional entries list on 61 points each.
Heading into Saturday’s race on the back of a strong start to the year which saw her win the junior race at the Great Edinburgh XCountry International, rankings leader Harriet Knowles-Jones (Paul Roden, Warrington AC) will hope to wrap up her maiden Cross Challenge title ahead of closest challengers Jodie Judd (Mick Judd, Chelmsford AC) – sister of Jess – and Bella Williams (Rob Lewis, Lincoln Wellington).