Attention turns to grassroots athletics this weekend, with Athletics Victoria and Athletics NSW hosting two of the oldest athletics events in the country.
Athletics Victoria has dubbed this weekend their heritage round of their cross country season in celebration of their 16km (10 mile) Cross Country Championship, run continuously since 1892. All competitors are encouraged to wear their traditional club uniforms in acknowledgement of the proud history of the event, as they take to the course and attempt to conquer the infamous ‘Col de Brimbank’, a sizeable hill encountered on each of the four laps of the 4km course.
The hill is a tough one, but not as brutal as that at the Willandra course, near Nowra, where the 115th edition of the NSW Cross Country Championships, over 12km, will be held. It’s been known to break the spirits of many an athlete.
A new name will be added to the title holder’s list in Melbourne, with winner of the last three editions, Liam Adams, currently pursuing training and racing opportunities overseas. And it will be a New South Welshman, in the form of Harry Summers, who will start as favourite.
Summers has been recruited south for the winter by Box Hill Athletics Club, and took out the Big V 10km race earlier in the month. He was however beaten home by Mitch Brown last weekend at the Australian 10km road championships, with Brown dipping under 29 minutes for the distance. Summers is known for his aggressive front running, and with recent heavy rain in Melbourne, it could be a gruelling race of attrition.
Courtney Carter was the surprise winner of the NSW title last year in a swift 38:26 – the fastest winning time for at least a decade. The former West Australian has battle injury since, and will have a strong challenge from Ken Green coached training partners James Nipperess and Jeff Hunt. Hunt, who is back into solid training for the London Olympics after two relatively recent marathons, has won the event twice, while three-time winner Russell Dessaix-Chin also lines up in the event.
When both championships were instigated the thought of women running cross country would have been considered ridiculous. Fortunately, times change. NSW have held a women’s cross country title since 1955. From the organisation’s Annual Report from that year:
“Following an increased interest in cross country running, both from the competitive angle and as a conditioning medium for track runners, it was decided to add a 1.5 mile cross country event to the championship program.”
(This information courtesy of consummate athletics historian, David Tarbotton)
The women now race over the international 8km distance at Nowra, with Australian 3000m steeplechase champion Milly Clark the overwhelming favourite to defend her title. In Melbourne, they will race over 6km, with Anna Thompson, Sophie Barker, Amanda Paulin and Melissa Duncan among the top entries.