Report by Graham French.
ESM’s young athletes defied some really challenging conditions at the Middlesex County cross country championships on Saturday 8 January, and for the first time in well over a decade brought home two team trophies, out of the 8 possible trophies for the under 11 to under 17 age groups. Our younger athletes also won 3 individual medals which, combined with Elias Ahmed’s individual medal in the under 20 race, represented our best trophy & medal haul since somewhere in the mid 2000’s. Our last trophy was the under 13 boys in 2014. The last time we brought back 2 trophies or more was somewhere between 2004 & 2007. Records, unfortunately, are incomplete.
The ground had been prepared by several drenchings of rain in the week before the event and, true to the forecast (why are they so accurate these days?) the rain swept in mid morning as the races were underway.
Undeterred, our strong team of under 11 boys took to the field. The 1.5k race was tight in its early stages but spread out as the runners made their way around the soggy fields, & by the final field Jack Hayward had established a lead over a Harrow rival which he was not going to relinquish. Marcus Muers was in hot pursuit of those two, & so it finished, with Jack closing strongly into the finish line 2 seconds ahead of Vivek Chopra of Harrow. Marcus continued strongly to finish 3rd, holding off challengers from London Heathside & Trent Park. Newcomer Leon Boulting completed the scoring team in 10th, to give ESM a comfortable victory. Cross country is always about the whole team, & not just those who score, & gaining valuable points & pushing rivals from other clubs further down the field came Joshua Devereaux in 21st, Ilakian Dhandapani, 30th & Ronnie Sunderland 32nd.
While nothing should ever be taken for granted in sport, the under 11 boys victory comes in a season where they are topping the Met league placings & have secured wins in the North West London League. In the next race the under 11 girls were due to spring a surprise! Newcomer Violet Muralidhar was in the front group coming through the first fields with Sophia Sargeant not far behind. Artemis Krystallidi & Jessica Walk, also running her first race for the club, completed the ESM contingent. Heading into the last field the lead was being fought out by Violet & an unattached local athlete. Violet, despite a very strong finish, & missed out on first place by just 3 seconds, a fantastic achievement for her first club race. Sophia ran an excellent tactical race to finish 7th, with Artemis 18th & Jessica 23rd. And that, by 2 points, meant ESM’s 2nd team win of the day. And it was still only 11.30 am!
The rain continued relentlessly as the under 13 boys took to the field. Leading the ESM charge, in a large field, was Mika Stripp, who had donned Middlesex county colours for the first time for the South of England inter counties in December. The course comprised the full loop of Berkeley Fields & Horsenden Hill , including a gruelling hill & a tricky downhill slither & turn. Mika ran strongly to finish 12th, with Gabriel Carpentier 21st & Sam Sunderland 23rd completing the scoring team, solidly backed up by Tom Price (30),Noah Levy (32), Elliot Edgar (33), Inian Dhandapani (34) & James Walk, running his first club race, in 39th. The team finished 4th.
The under 13 girls ran the same course as the boys & fought hard in the worsening conditions. 2 of the 3 girls running on the day mix longer & shorter distances & thus their efforts were especially impressive. First in, in 19th, was Ella Smith, followed by Leila Newth in 26th. Rosie Hartnett completed the scoring team in 34th. The team placed 7th.
The under 15s’ 4k course missed out the initial 3, relatively benign, fields, & instead headed straight for the aforementioned muddy – and slippery – hills, which they had to negotiate twice each. For the boys, Edward Flewitt led the team home, running strongly to finish 8th. Next in, only a few seconds outside the top 10 positions, was Junias Lee in 13th. Isaac Mezey completed the scoring positions in 24th, with Alec Edgar (27) & Henry Jones (35) completing the team. The team placed 4th.
The under 15 girls race was a festival of lost spikes! Nicola Hewitt was first in for ESM, finishing 15th, followed by Zairah Newth in 30th, Rosie Hewitt (33), Reha Sayani (34) & Diya Sayani (37). Despite applying tape both Nicola & Rosie ran large parts of the race with only one spike & a muddy sock on the other foot! (as did Lauren Beale in the under 20s). Reha was just recovering from covid. So all in all it was a very gutsy performance by our under 15 girls, who were 6th in the team placings.
Our under 17 athletes were, sadly, thin on the ground , with Lucy Henson the only ESM woman, & Jonah Mezey our only u17 man. The course was a tough 6k & both acquitted themselves really well to finish 5th & 19th respectively.
The under 20 women’s team of Amira Nuseibeh (8th), Katie Hay (9th) & Lauren Beale (10th) secured a creditable 2nd team place.
Elias Ahmed was our sole under 20 male runner but won the race in style outsprinting a VPH&TH AC athlete at the finish.
This was not only our most successful outing for a long time in terms of medals and trophies, but also our best turn out in terms of numbers of ESM young athletes for over a decade. So with this promising group of youngsters pushing on, & more recent recruits, the future of middle distance & endurance running at the club is looking good.