It’s not every day that you hear about a cross country race taking place in the height of summer. But with the 2023 World Cross Country Championships being held in Bathurst, Australia, the need to switch the cold, rainy weather associated with English cross country for extreme heat and humidity was all but inevitable. A team of 17 British athletes headed down under to battle against the conditions, challenging course and, naturally, the best cross country runners in the world.
The first race of the day was the mixed 4 x 2km relay event. The team consisted of English athletes Joe Wigfield (coach: Craig Winrow, club: Wirral), Alex Bell (Andrew Henderson, Pudsey and Bramley), Callum Elson (Cambridge and Coleridge) and Alex Millard (Bill Foster, Invicta East Kent). Joe Wigfield was the first to run on this unique course which contained sections called the Bondi, the Boomerang, the Billabong and the Chicane. Wigfield performed impressively on his senior debut, keeping the team in contention all the way. Next up was team captain, Alex Bell, who finished sixth at the Commonwealth Games last summer. Bell battled it out against USA’s Emma Coburn before handing over to Elson whose performance kept the team in contention for a top six finish. Alex Millard, who also made a senior debut on the weekend, ran a strong final leg to bring the team home in a fantastic sixth position.
The junior women’s race consisted of three laps of the challenging course, making up a total distance of 6km. The young British team impressed with Rebecca Flahertey (Karen Glerum, Bingley) finishing 23rd. Flahertey started strongly and maintained her position around the top 25 throughout the race, finishing well to secure that 23rd spot. Scotland’s Hannah Ryding finished just behind Flahertey in 24th whilst Zoe Gilbody (John Skevington, Wreake and Soar Valley) and Megan Harris (Hayley Hemmings, Chelmsford) both ran strongly to finish in 33rd and 40th respectively. The team finished sixth overall which was an excellent result for the junior women.
The junior men’s team battled it out over 8km and were rewarded with a fantastic fifth place. Edward Bird (Marl Pauley, Poole AC) worked his way through the field to claim the highest British individual finish of the competition in 18th. Luke Birdseye (Shireen Higgens, Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow) and Jacob Deacon (Katie Hewison, Chorley) also ran strongly to finish in 26th and 28th with Sam Mills (Exeter) making it into the top 50 finishing in 49th. With all four athletes still eligible to compete in the U20 category next season, there is certainly a lot to be excited about as we look ahead to the next 12 months.
The senior women had to run five laps of the course, totalling 10km. English athletes Abbie Donnelly (Rob Lewis, Lincoln Wellington) and Amelia Quirk (Mick Woods, Bracknell) started conservatively and worked their way through the field as the laps went on. These tactics more than paid off with Donnelly and Quirk finishing in 24th and 25th respectively. Poppy Tank (Alastair and Amy Cragg, City of Plymouth) ran a gutsy race finishing 37th whilst Scotland’s Megan Keith crossed the line in 52nd - helping the British team to secure a brilliant sixth place.
If the tough 10km wasn’t enough to deal with, a fast-approaching storm meant that the senior men’s race was brought forward by 20 minutes at the last minute. Zakariya Mahamed (Idris Hamud, Southampton), the only British athlete competing in this event, battled hard in the tough conditions finishing 76th on his senior debut.
England Athletics supporting our cross country runners
With so much young British talent on display across the weekend, the future certainly looks bright for cross country running. England Athletics are particularly proud to be able to support athletes through the Talented Athlete and Coach Pathway in which Jacob Deacon, Rebecca Flahertey, Megan Harris and Amelia Quirk are all currently involved.
The pathway provides a progressive support structure for athletes and coaches to develop skills and competencies with the aim of moving athletes on to representative honours at England and GB level. Learn more about the Talent Pathway.
Sarah Benson, Head of Talent Development at England Athletics said:
“At England Athletics, we are making it our mission to connect and support developing athletes and para-athletes along their journey towards success, both inside and outside of the sport. We know that helping to enhance the education and opportunities for our athletes and para-athletes whilst at the same time nurturing their sporting ability at each stage of their development is a huge positive step towards them reaching their full potential.”
More cross country action this weekend
If you enjoyed watching the cross country on the weekend and would like to see more, you don’t have long to wait.
This weekend will see some of England’s best athletes battle it out in Cheshire to be crowned National Champion. Amongst the star-studded line-ups are Amelia Quirk who is entered in the senior women’s race and Zak Mahamed and Callum Elson who are entered in the senior men’s event. In the junior men’s race Jacob Deacon, Edward Bird and Luke Birdseye are all entered - setting this race up to be a real cracker. Meanwhile Rebecca Flaherty and Zoe Gilbody will be amongst the athletes hoping to medal in the junior women’s competition.