Traditionally the New Year starts with the Sussex Cross-Country championships and 2018 is no different except that the senior races look much more open than in recent years.
More than 600 athletes are expect to congregate at Bexhill Down on Saturday for ten Sussex team and individual titles while two Under 11 races, at 11.00am are the warm-up acts.
Rains over the last couple of weeks should assure runners that Bexhill will retain its reputation as the muddiest of the Sussex Cross-Country courses.
The senior men’s race at 13.30 will attract the largest field and this race has been held every year, apart from the War Years since the formation of the County Association in 1924.
Last year's winner, Jon Pepper (Brighton Phoenix), is entered to defend his title but he does not appear to have raced since the Brighton Marathon back in April so we may be looking for a new champion.
Last year Tom Evans (Lewes) just took second place ahead of Brighton & Hove’s Kevin Moore and Max Dumbrell (Phoenix) but of these only Dumbrell has done much racing. Crawley’s James Westlake could be a real challenger if he races but his first love is football and if he has a match on Saturday that is where he will be.
Jamie Knapp (Brighton & Hove) who has dominated the League this season is not eligible for Sussex events while Ross Skelton (Phoenix) was in great form in October and he also finished second to Knapp at Bexhill in November and in the absence of Pepper, Skelton or Evans look the most likely winners with Stephen Ferroni (Brighton & Hove) another challenger for the bronze medal.
Phoenix look strongest on paper to regain the team title, with Hastings unlikely to successfully defend the title they took last year. While Brighton & Hove, Lewes or Crawley are likely to challenge for the medals.
The Women’s race is less complicated and reigning champion Nicole Taylor (Tonbridge) will start as favourite but if she does not show then Horsham’s Johanna Spannagl, who led the Sussex team to second place in the Southern Inter-counties just before Christmas will be the one to watch with probably Chloe Cook (Bodyworks), Crawley’s Isabella Murray, Arena 80’s Maisie Trafford or Izzy Coomber (Lewes) joining the battle for medals. Lewes look likely to retain their team title.
The Championship racing begins at 11.30 when the U13 girls race and with the three league races this year producing three different winners we should be in for a good battle. Nicholas Hollan-Ellidge from Crawley has dominated the Boys events and he should start as a strong favourite.
The Under 15 Girl’s will almost certainly be dominated by Bodyworks’s Bethany Cook but the Boys event has seen three different League winners this season and there are others close up who could take the title.
The Under 17 age group points to another victory for Almi Nerurkar (Phoenix) who has won Sussex Cross-Country titles at Under 13, Under 15 and is the reigning Under 17 champion and a victory for Thomas Eames (Brighton & Hove) in the U17 men’s event.
Missing from the championships this year will be County Cross-Country Secretary Phil Baker from Chichester who had a serious cycling accident just before Christmas. The accident resulted in surgery but Phil is now back home and making a steady recovery but it is unlikely that we shall see him at Cross-Country events in Sussex before the end of this season.
All cross-country supporters in Sussex will wish Phil, who fifty years back would have been running in these championships and racing for Sussex, a complete recovery.
A message from Phil:
"Thank you to all the individuals and clubs across the county who contacted me for your kindness and concern. I returned home just before Christmas and have been advised it will take at least a couple of months to fully recover. I am slowly responding to your many messages and cards and look forward to seeing you in a few months time back on the track."