National Cross Country Championships – Yarra Bend

This year’s National Cross Country races were very interesting races, though ultimately, in both senior races, the winners’ performances were emphatic.

The Women’s race (8k) had a 2k loop and 2 X 3K loops. The 2002 winner, Anna Thompson, pushed the pace early and opened up a gap that appeared significant (about 15 metres at one stage, or more) after the first shorter loop. However, Hayley McGregor and Georgie Clarke were running strongly, and did not appear to be losing form, or rhythm, 10 to 20 metres behind. During the second lap McGregor and Clarke surged forward to catch Thompson and pass her. Thompson was working harder than the other two and a small gap between them appeared up a short but severe rise, and once Clarke and McGregor had reached a flatter area, they extended their lead over Thompson. Further back, Eloise Poppett had a very substantial break over the other athletes, but was probably 80 metres behind Thompson. A further 60 metres behind Poppett was Victorian Karen Thorpe who was running smoothly, with New Zealander Mary Davies placed 6th, about 90 metres further back.

McGregor and Clarke maintained their rivalry until the last kilometre, when Clarke faltered slightly on a tough downhill loop. At the top of the rise, which followed part of the course adjacent to the Yarra River, McGregor finally broke away from her rival, extending her lead with each stride, to win by 13 seconds. It was an excellent performance from both McGregor and Clarke, and the result was not assured until late in the race. Thompson seemed to make up distance in the concluding stages, and was a further 13 seconds back, with Poppett also hanging on well towards the end, 28 seconds behind Thompson. Thorpe’s run was an impressive effort, for a less credentialled athlete.

Others in the field were distant, and the field was stretched out substantially even after three kilometres.

1. H. McGregor 27:18
2. G. Clarke 27:31
3. A. Thompson 27:44
4. E. Poppett NSW 28:12
5. K. Thorpe 28:28
6. M. Davies NZ 28:46

The senior men’s race was a very interesting and competitive race as well, and again revealed the extraordinary ability of Steve Moneghetti. At the start, the course narrowed from the starting grid to take a relatively sharp right-hander where the course followed an oval, 200 metres from the start. This was a design flaw, leading to a “squeeze-box” effect, and the course was reduced from 15 metres’ width to three metres’ width. A New Zealander (running in the Auckland club strip) bolted clear, and several favoured athletes, including Steve Moneghetti,  who had started off at more moderate pace, found themselves amidst less capable athletes, mid-field. Moneghetti, then set about working his way up to the front of the field and by the end of the first one kilometre loop he had reached the head of the field where there was a large bunch vying for leading positions. A Tanzanian athlete (winner of the previous week’s City to Surf race in Sydney), Patrick Nyangelo, was prominent, second or third at this stage with Victorians Mark Thompson, Simon Field, Nigel Adkins, David Byrnes, NSW, and Scott Westcott, NSW, all prominent. The leading group numbered about 12 or 13, and the field was already spreading. John Meagher set off hard, and was ahead of Hamish McElwee, but later in the early section they reversed their positions. They passed through the first 3 K point in 9:26 and 9:27 respectively.

Moneghetti was making all the running from the front and, one by one, other leading athletes started to show signs of pressure. Nyangelo was covering every move that Moneghetti made, followed by Westcott, and Thompson and these four athletes opened up a gap over the other leaders, including Field, Byrne, and Adkins. During this second lap, Field drifted off the pace, behind Adkins, who caught and was running with Byrne. Hamish McElwee claimed several runners in this lap and moved forward into 20th place with John Meagher only a little way further back, perhaps five positions to the rear.

The third lap saw Moneghetti relentlessly force the pace further, causing first Thompson and then Westcott to fall behind by a substantial margin, though the Tanzanian hung on grimly. At the end of the third lap (i.e. the 9 K. point), Moneghetti had opened up a 10 metre gap over Nyangelo (27:11 to 27:16). Westcott had passed Thompson and opened up a reasonable buffer, though Thompson looked capable of reducing the leeway. Byrne was still close to Adkins, with Field slipping further back a bit, with Quin in a reasonable position. Hamish McElwee was holding his own and John Meagher was also looking solid in about 25th position.

Moneghetti continued to apply continuous pressure to Nyangelo who faltered and drifted off the pace, while Westcott started to pick up Nyangelo, with Thompson not conceding any further ground. Even at this stage of the race, it was possible two-thirds of the way into the last lap (with one kilometre to go), that Westcott might claim second place, and that Thompson might claw his way past Westcott. However, that didn’t happen and when Moneghetti drew into sight after the last substantial rise with 450 metres to run to the finish (over twenty seconds clear) the placings didn’t change, though the margins tightened a little between second, third and fourth. Michael Shelley, AIS, ran a very strong last lap to pass a number of leading athletes and place 6th, just behind Nigel Adkins. Hamish McElwee placed 19th, a fine performance about 2 minutes 30 seconds down on the winner. John Meagher was 36 seconds behind his clubmate, in 24th position, another excellent performance. John may have done even better had he not been rushing around enthusiastically supporting the junior athletes he has done such a magnificent job coaching in all the preceding  junior races.

Moneghetti enjoyed enormous support all around the course and the win was an exceedingly well-received one. It seems almost unbelievable that Steve Moneghetti, who had been talked into entering the race on the day entries closed, could still be the pre-eminent Cross Country athlete in Australia, aged 41. No other athletes really challenged him on the day, and probably of those who weren’t there, preparing for the World Championships, only Lee Troop would have been a strong competitive chance on the day, given the way that Mona performed.

The winner of the National XC Championship is guaranteed selection for the World Cross Country Championships.  Consideration might be given by Athletics Australia to asking  Steve to run next year’s WCCC race and take a younger group of promising athletes together with other senior athletes in good form to run. These developing athletes would be inspired by Steve and they would derive enormous benefit from his advice, knowledge and experience.

Leading placings were:
1. S. Moneghetti 36:26
2. P. Nyangelo Tanzania 36:47
3. S Westcott NSW 36:53
4. M. Thompson 35:58
5. N. Adkins 37:22
6. M. Shelley AIS 37:25
7. S. Field 37:49
8. D. Byrne NSW 37:58
9. Dessau-Chin NSW 37:59
10. P. Saunders NSW 38:03
11. C. Perrett 38:10
12. D. Quin 38:15
13. D. Ruschena 38:32
14. Roff NSW 38:33
15. Imhoff ACT 38:39
16. L. Taylor NSW 38:45
17. Isbister Qld 38:51
18. L. Gloster 38:54
19. H. McElwee 38:58
20. Hunt NSW 39:10
24. J. Meagher 39: 34

Times are taken from a running watch and might differ from the official times

There were three Box Hill representatives in the Under 20 race: Andrew White, Adrian Vincent and Lachlan Aspinall. Collis Birmingham was probably regarded as a good chance of winning the race, although there were several quality New Zealanders in the field. A group of six athletes, including Andrew White, broke clear early in the race. One of these athletes subsequently became detached so there were five including Andrew with a large break over other competitors.

Andrew was unable to respond to a surge in the second section of the race, and lost five metres which gradually increased. However, at that stage he was still in the Bronze medal position, with Adrian Vincent around 12th, and improving noticeably as the race progressed. Lachlan Aspinall was about 19th or 20th, and looking a little strained, running fluently nevertheless. Birmingham suddenly slipped back a little, leaving Craig Appleby, a Victorian, and the two New Zealanders to fight out the leading three positions. When the field re-emerged with a kilometre to go, it was apparent that Andrew White had withdrawn, suffering a foot injury we were to learn later. However, Adrian Vincent had stormed past a number of other athletes and was vying for a top 6 position.

Meanwhile one of the New Zealanders got to the lead momentarily, but Appleby was very determined and wrested the lead back, putting in a sustained finishing burst which propelled him to a comfortable lead. with Henshaw (NZ), and Kranitz (NZ) finishing second and third respectively.  Adrian Vincent finished the last kilometre in an exceptionally determined fashion to pass other athletes and get into sixth position. He found there were numerous Box Hill supporters all shouting raucously for him willing him to beat all those near him. Lachlan Aspinall ran on well finishing in 25th position.

U/20 men’s 8 K.

1. C. Appleby 25:32
2. E. Henshaw NZ 25:41
3. S. Kranitz NZ 25:51
4. C. Birmingham 26:16
5. D. Dreverman NSW 26:33
6. A. Vincent Box Hill 26:48
25. L Aspinall Box Hill 28:29

The results from the Men’s Under 18 race were not available. Michael Bourne competed, acquitting himself well in around 25th position. Simon O’Brien also ran in club uniform, finishing somewhere around 12th position.

The Under 16 race was an exciting event from Box Hill’s point of view with two Box Hill athletes in medal winning positions until the last 500 metres. Chris Hamer got himself into second place 450 metres from home, but was swamped by three faster finishing runners, including clubmate Matthew Coloe who was just edged out of the bronze medal position to finish 4th. Rubin Arunasalam placed 28th (14:22) and a number of Marcellin boys coached by John Meagher competed in this age group. John expended considerable energy in encouraging his young charges.

The Under 16 Women’s event saw a disappointment for Hayley Tomlinson who was sharing the lead, when she fell at the bottom of a descent and stumbled again when she regained her feet. Hayley got going again but couldn’t catch the leader, and the shock of losing her footing was apparent in the concluding stages. She courageously ran to the finish in fourth place (14:37). Sarah Cant also performed with distinction placing 7th (14:50).

Alice Bacquie ran in the Under 18 event, after returning from injury. Details of her placing and time will need to be obtained from the web site when they are mounted.