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Carl Lewis is served up a cross country treat in Liverpool

Written by 
Published in Athletics
Saturday, 25 November 2023 16:21
Nine-time Olympic champion is on hand to give out the medals as Megan Keith and Hugo Milner round off an eventful day at Sefton Park

As anyone who has ever competed in a cross country event will tell you, every single one is memorable in one way or another. The same rule certainly applied to this years edition of the Liverpool Cross Challenge on Saturday (Nov 25), with some outstanding performances winning not just kudos but also places on the British team that will head to next months European Cross Country Championships in Brussels.

As if that didnt add enough of an extra dimension to proceedings, though, then the rather unlikely presence of Carl Lewis in an athletic domain about as far removed as it is possible to be from the sprinting and long jumping world which he ruled over for so long made it a truly unforgettable afternoon for many of the throng which had gathered in Sefton Park.

The nine-time Olympic champion, in his second year as Track and Field Head Coach at the University of Houston, was in town to help distance coach Kyle Gibson on an athlete recruitment drive. With two English athletes already on the books, they are looking to add more and widen their reach.

Lewis was only too happy to chat with the rather surprised and occasionally bemused well-wishers who approached him, as well as hand out some of the winners medals.

Its interesting to see cross country, he told AW. Its obviously so different to what were used to dealing with on the track. I always say that I dont run further than I can hold my breath so this is not for me but that doesnt mean that I cant respect it and like it and see the hard work and dedication [involved].

That hard work was very much in evidence across the range of races, with the programme coming to a climax with the senior mens and womens races.

Keith stands out while Milner takes it easy

At the recent Cardiff Cross Challenge, Megan Keith showed she was in form with a fine front running victory. This time around, the European under-23 5000m champion tried to turn the screw and see who could stick with it during the senior womens race.

The plan worked to perfection and hers was a thoroughly dominant overall win, the under-23 athlete coming home over the 8.1km course in 26:02, fully 53 seconds clear of Abbie Donnelly, the first senior athlete over the line. Izzy Fry was third, with last years winner, Jess Warner-Judd, following closely behind.

Keith will now head to Brussels focused on building, perhaps even bettering, the individual under-23 silver she won 12 months ago.

Hugo Milner (Graham Smith)

There was also a convincing win for Hugo Milner in the mens contest, his winning margin was 24 seconds after covering the 9.8km course in 28:38. Behind him, the tight battle for second was won by Matthew Stonier (the first under-23 athlete home), who pipped Jack Rowe to the line. Hot on their heels were the European under-23 10,000m champion Rory Leonard, as well as former English National cross country champion Calum Johnson and Zak Mahamed.

Milner insists his switch to triathlon has made the running races he takes part in just seem easy and it certainly looked that way in Liverpool.

He will head to Australia in the new year for a triathlon training camp, hoping to fulfil his ambition of making it on to the British Olympic team. However, first will come another crack at the European Cross Country, where he intends to improve on his 32nd place from last year.

Josh Lay (Graham Smith)

Lay on the comeback trail, while Morley springs a surprise

The other senior action of the day came right at the start of the programme, with the mens and womens senior short course relay trial, with each of the winners qualifying for the European Cross mixed relay line-up.

Josh Lay ran out winner of the mens race, earning a first senior GB call-up and proving he is very much on the comeback trail following three years of shin injury problems. In a sprint finish, he saw off Tom Dodd and Alex Melloy in the 1.5km contest.

There was something of a surprise in the womens race as Bethan Morley ran out a convincing winner. Race favourite and member of last years relay team Khahisa Mhlanga had to settle for second, with Kate Axford third.

Hard work pays off for Dover, while FitzGerald settles her nerves

Henry Dover had time to enjoy the moment, flapping his arms like a bird as he strolled across the line to secure the most significant win of his career thus far. Victory in the mens under-20 race brings with it his first ever British international vest and the Shaftesbury Barnet athlete could barely contain his emotion as the achievement sank in.

After establishing a sizeable lead before then being reeled in, Dover fought back to see off Cardiff winner Sam Hodgson, with Louis Small coming home in third.

Thats what hard work brings you, grinned an elated Dover.

Even though she admitted to having some pre-race nerves, there was never any doubt that Innes FitzGerald was going to add another cross country victory to her growing list in the womens under-20 race.

As has become something of a trademark, the Exeter athlete blasted away from the opposition and didnt let up, coming home half a minute clear of Jess Bailey, with Zoe Hunter completing the podium. Under-17 athlete Shaikira King finished fourth in front of Lizzie Welstead, with another under-17 competitor Katie Pye completing the top six.

After just missing out on a medal in the U20s Euro Cross race at last year, FitzGerald clearly has her sights set on some silverware this time around.

Eventful age groups

Giffnock Norths Craig Shennan won a closely fought under-17 mens race, following a tremendous battle with Oscar Schofield which ebbed and flowed throughout the contest. Only a second separated the pair in the end, while Andrew McWilliam took third.

For the under-15 girls, Olivia Forrest enjoyed a clear win over Libby Hale, who edged out Kitty Scott. The under-15 boys race went to Evan Grime, who had a four-second winning margin over Calum Dick as Ray Taylor follow close behind.

Maisie Mullett and Jack Baranowski were the under-13 winners, while Sebastian Palmer and Madison Kindler took the under-11 honours.

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