Rain clouds have a silver lining for Guernsey team

GUERNSEY celebrated the return of the Hampshire Cross-Country Championships by bringing back silver in the men’s team competition.

Although headed home by Lee Merrien, who finished fifth overall with a veteran gold, it was ultimately the next generation of developing athletes who ensured the Sarnians outshone all but Southampton on a rather inclement Saturday afternoon at Fairthorne Manor, Botley.

The championships were returning after a year out due to Covid and, amid a bitter reception of persistent rainfall and a treacherous course caked in mud, the Guernsey men put behind them their unusual failure to medal in 2020.

Merrien was the top Guernseyman for the race’s circa 12km duration – and he even served a spell as overall leader.

Just over a third of the way in, the London 2012 Olympian entered the start/finish field with a marginal advantage after boldly taking on the pace.

It was not to last as the red-and-whites of Southampton became rather dominant but as Merrien worked towards a 41min. 23sec. finish, precisely a minute down on leader Peter Hart, Guernsey’s own depth was clearly apparent.

Bath University student Alex Rowe was best of the rest.

Rowe came home in 42-22 as second Sarnian and ninth overall, showing impressive fitness despite being under two weeks out of an isolation spell caused by an untimely festive Covid infection.

Fellow student Sammy Galpin coped expertly with the testing terrain and despite a mid-race fall holding him up briefly and painting his white Guernsey vest brown, he finished a superb 17th to edge island cross-country champion James Priest by two positions.

Richard Bartram placed 24th despite having his own build-up interrupted by Covid and Dan Galpin beat Sam Lesley in a sprint-off for sixth Guernsey counter, landing 28th spot.

‘As a team, it’s an absolutely brilliant result,’ experienced team member Priest said.

‘A bit was made about how two years ago, it was the first team in 20 years or so that didn’t get a medal.

‘Yes, we were massively helped with “Mez” coming out, but other than that, the base of the team was almost the same that was fourth two years ago.

‘Two years ago, I said it was a team that definitely had potential, and back then, for Alex and Sammy, it was their first time stepping up to the senior level. Those two specifically stepped up really well.’

The women had to be content with fifth, having entered with a barebones squad of just four athletes – not including previous individual medallists Sarah Mercier and Jenny James.

But triathlete Megan Chapple impressed on her Botley debut to lead the squad over the roughly 8km course.

Guernsey's first woman home Megan Chapple was eighth overall. (Picture by Jamie Ingrouille, 08-01-22. (30374015)

In a race dominated by Aldershot’s classy Louise Small, Chapple followed 2-41 down on the leader for eighth overall.

Nix Petit stayed in touch with the triathlete to finish a very creditable 12th, with the more distant Emma Etheredge (32nd) and Laura Quayle (54th) rounding off the team.

Two juniors registered individual top 10 finishes, with James Stafford-Bell finishing sixth in the U13 boys and Thomas Merrien taking seventh in the U15s.

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