The English National Cross-Country Championships returns to Parliament Hill for the first time since 2018. That day Adam Hickey prevailed for the men with Phoebe Law taking the women’s title.
With the effects of Storm Eunice leaving Parliament Hill a mudbath, it promises to be a war of attrition over 12k for the Senior Men and 8k for the Senior Women.
Calum Johnson won in Wollaton Park in 2020 in similarly difficult conditions and back in December said he was ‘100% going back’ to defend his title. He told us:
“I’m not doing it because I have to defend the title, I’m doing it because I love the National cross. I love the atmosphere, everything about it. I grew up watching that race so I always found it inspiring. Winning it last year meant so much to me and everyone’s seen that in the photos.
I won’t be there because I feel I have to defend the title, I’m gonna be there because I want to be there.”
Calum’s latest outing came after suffering COVID over Christmas where he finished 17th at the Northern Ireland Invitational. A month later, free from illness he may be the event’s dark horse.
On the women’s side Anna Emilie Moller won in 2020, despite not actually ever competing for GB or England. The runner-up that day was Jess Judd, with third place Bronwen Owen of Leeds City. Owen makes this year’s start line but Judd is not on the entries list.
The men’s favourite
Emile Cairess has to start as favourite and comes into the race after a stint at altitude in Kenya. Whilst training out there he participated in a stacked Kenyan race, part of the World Athletics Cross Tour and finished in 41st. Having tied Mo Farah’s British record over 10k on the roads he looks to be potentially a class above the rest of the field, but this is cross.
The women’s favourites
On paper the women’s race would be more open but by virtue of their wins at the Southerns, Northerns and Midlands respectively, Jess Gibbon, Eleanor Bolton and Katie Holt appear to be the early favourites. Both Gibbon and Holt won by good margins.
Bolton was fourth in the most recent Northern Ireland International, first English woman ahead of Gibbon in 7th. Holt did not race but was 9th in the recent Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza in Elgoibar, the first British woman.
The men’s contenders
Andy Coley-Maud’s last appearance at Parliament Hill saw him take the runner’s up spot in 2018. Since then, he is unbeaten across five subsequent cross appearances and ran bravely to win his second Southerns title in late January. At the later end of his career he would be a popular winner.
Hugo Milner has really reached a new level over the last year and was unlucky not to make the Euro-Cross team. He was 4th in Northern Ireland and acquitted himself well in finished 9th in the Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza in Eigobar.
The man who finished second behind Milner at the Northerns was Nigel Martin. The Sale Harriers man will be there or thereabouts.
Alexander Leprêtre is clearly in decent form having finished 3rd to run 13:55 in the Podium Under the Lights.
Zak Mahamed won in Northern Ireland and was second at the Bucs Cross-Country. He will compete and will be inspired by the presence of his brother Mahamed, a previous national winner in 2019. Together they lead what looks to be a very strong Southampton side.
Joe Steward and Linton Taylor chased home Johnson for second and third the last time this race was run and will hope to make the step up this time. Steward hasn’t raced since his national runners-up spot but is listed on the entries, while Taylor has been in Kenya training alongside Cairess.
Olympic triathlon silver medalist Alex Yee is listed on the entries for Kent AC but it would be surprise to see him there.
Doug Musson deserves mention by virtue of his impressive win at the Midlands Champs.
Two-time winner of the U20’s race, Ellis Cross is listed amongst a strong Aldershot, Farnham and District. Having raced infrequently of late he could surprise a few and has previously stated his career ambition to one-day win a senior national.
The women’s contenders
Lauren Heyes may have finished 4th in the Northerns but in finishing 9th at the British Cross Challenge she’s shown good pedigree this cross-season. She’s on the start list for Hallamshire Harriers.
Nicole Taylor is currently nursing a slight injury but won the Sussex Champs in early January. Her best national was a 12th place in 2019. Fellow Tonbridge athlete Lucy Reid won the Kent equivalent and was one place behind Taylor in 13th in 2019.
Sophie Tarver was second behind Bolton in the Northerns and finished 13th in Elgoibar. That day Alexandra Millard finished in 10th though she competes in the Junior race.
Pippa Woolven finished 11th and is on the entry list for the Seniors. Woolven finished 2nd in the 2019 National and maybe a dark horse for this year’s title.
Amelia Quirk is also on the entries list though looks set to compete at the British Indoors.
Past winners in the field
Adam Hickey has fond memories of Parliament Hill, having won in 2018 and is entered though he has raced infrequently of late.
Ben Connor, a winner in 2017 is also listed though there are some doubts as to whether, given his marathon schedule, he will tow the start line.
Matt Seddon, Co-host of the Sunday Plodcast: Emile Cairess
Keith Scofield, Organiser Friday Night Under the Lights: Mahamed Mahamed, Jess Gibbon
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Featured image: National Cross 2020 Senior Women’s Race – Credit: Mark Hookway