Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Athletics: Thrills in Store at Alton Towers

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Athletics: Thrills in Store at Alton Towers

Article excerpt

Byline: By BILL McGURIK

IT MAY not carry the prestige it used to - but the English National CrossCountry Championships is still held in high regard by many, 132 years after the first championship was held at Buckhurst Hill.

The seeds were planted in 1876 when 32 competitors faced the starter for what has become the biggest cross-country race in the UK which regularly sees 2,000 club athletes cross the finish line in the senior men's event.

And this weekend's offering at Alton Towers, the first time the championships have been held at the venue, could find many of the athletes from the region following in the footsteps of past champions.

In 1931 at Kettering, Saltwell's Jack Potts was the first North East winner of the senior title and he followed up that victory by winning again at Alderley Edge five years later.

In between, in 1931, it was the turn of Elswick's Olympian Alex Burns to see off the opposition.

After 45 lean years, along came Brendan Foster and he led the field home at Parliament Hill in 1977 to help Gateshead win the team title for the fourth time in five years - 1973, 75, 76 and 77.

And the Tyneside out fit were to win it twice more - 1979 and 87 -which was a glorious time for endurance running in the region. While Gateshead were celebrating another team victory in 1979 at Luton, Elswick's Mike McLeod produced the goods to have his name etched on the individual trophy.

Since that day 39 years ago the only claim of interest for the region in the senior championship was when Durham-based Dominic Bannister, competing for Shaftesbury Barnet, won at Leeds in 1998 and seeing former Chester-le-Street runner Michael Openshaw, running for Birchfield, win on home soil in Durham in 2001.

While there have been numerous successes in the senior men's event over the years, the same cannot be said for the senior women.

In fact, the North East has only had one individual winner and also only one team have ever returned home with a set of gold medals.

In 1950, North Shields Poly's Anthena Gibson won at Parliament Hill, and on the same course 53 years later Chester-le-Street were crowned champions. …

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