Hardy powers home

GREAT Britain international Kelvin Hardy powered to victory at the annual Suffolk County Cross Country Championships, held over a testing course at Holbecks Park, Hadleigh on Sunday.

By Carl Marston

GREAT Britain international Kelvin Hardy powered to victory at the annual Suffolk County Cross Country Championships, held over a testing course at Holbecks Park, Hadleigh on Sunday.

Hardy made light of the heavy conditions to retain his senior men's county title in 45min 46sec.

A product of Steve Benson's successful training group at Ipswich Harriers, Hardy competed at the European Cross Country Championship in Tilburg, Netherlands, just over a year ago.

Paul Holley, a veteran from Newmarket Joggers, was the closest challenger to Hardy. He was more than two minutes adrift, but was still an impressive second in 48.13.

Ipswich Jaffa's John Weatherley enjoyed a strong run over the hilly three-lap course to take third spot. He finished ahead of another of Ipswich Harriers' bright young sparks, Ben Spashett.

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Peter Barker is more at home on the roads over 5K, but the Saint Edmund Pacer dug deep to master the muddy 12K course in fifth place. He held off a strong challenge from the impressive Arron Scott, of Woodbridge Shufflers. Scott had won the under-20 crown last year.

Saint Edmund Pacers retained the Southgate Cup by winning the senior men's team on countback from Ipswich Jaffa. Both clubs finished with 14 points, although the Pacers' fourth scorer finished ahead of his counterpart.

Barker was supported by Steve Robinson (eighth), David Reed (13th) and Julian Long (15th) in the successful Pacers' quartet. It was the fifth year in a row that the Bury St Edmunds club had won the title.

Youngster Sara Bird, of West Suffolk AC, won a closely-fought senior women's race. Bird has enjoyed success throughout the various age groups, including a victory at under-20 level last year and she produced a strong display of front-running at Hadleigh in her first appearance at a senior level.

Bird was just 11 seconds ahead of an in-form Helen Decker, who is in the middle of training for April's London Marathon.

Decker led the Ipswich Jaffa club to a comfortable team victory, backed up by Jayne Williams (fourth) and Val Jennings (fifth). Jennings was the leading veteran.

There was an eye-catching run from Val Gladwell, of host club Hadleigh Hares. She was an excellent third to scoop an individual bronze medal.

American-born sensation Greg Billington blasted to victory in the under-20 men's race. The Newmarket teenager shot to fame by becoming the first Suffolk runner to win an individual gold medal at the Inter-Counties Championships in Nottingham last season.

Among the younger age groups, Saint Edmund Pacers took an individual and team gold in the under-13 girls' race. Justine Anthony was four seconds clear of West Suffolk AC's Madeline Davies, with Holbrook High School's Hannah Peterson in third. The successful Pacers team was made up of Anthony and Elin Grose and Lauren Clipstone.

Jaffa's Jack Garvin was a clear winner of the under-13 boys' event. He finished 35 seconds ahead of runner-up Rhys Hinton-Smith, of Felixstowe Road Runners, with Joe Rowntree spearheading Ipswich Harriers' winning team in third.

West Suffolk AC provided the female winners in both the under-15 and under-17 age categories. Abigail Marriott had opened up a big gap by the end of the under-15 race, with Harriers' Emma Burroughs in second, while Zara McLoone was more than a minute clear of the field in the older age group.

The boys' races were a little closer. John Bird, of Ipswich Harriers, crossed the line 17 seconds ahead of West Suffolk AC's Charlie Fry to take the under-15 title.

Having competed the previous day in the UK Cross Challenge in Belfast, where he finished the 3.9km course an outstanding 16 seconds ahead of his nearest rival, Bird led from the start at Hadleigh to take the title.

Supported by Andrew Constable in fifth and Ryan Gardner in 19th, Harriers picked up the silver team award.

Prior to the Belfast event, Bird was ranked second in the under-15 individual championship. There are two fixtures left this season in the UK Cross Challenge, Cardiff on January 21 and Nottingham on February 24 and if John maintains this standard he could take the under-15 boys'

title.

Andrew Rooke had also competed the previous day in Belfast, but was still able to outrun his Harrier team mate Elliot Palmer by 12 seconds over 6K, to take the under-17 men's title.

With Tom Taylor finishing fifth the Harriers team took the gold medal.

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