Liverpool Cross Challenge sees big wins for Emile Cairess and Jess Warner-Judd as Innes Fitzgerald and Will Barnicoat beat junior rivals
Battling increasingly muddy conditions at Sefton Park and weaving their way through lapped runners from grassroots leagues, Emile Cairess and Jess Warner-Judd emerged as emphatic winners of the senior races at the British Athletics Cross Challenge and European Trials on Saturday (Nov 26).
Cairess is in the form of his life. After equalling Mo Farah’s UK 10km record with 27:44 at the start of the year and running a 10,000m PB of 27:34.08 in the summer, he has started this winter in style.
Last month the 24-year-old finished leading Brit at the Cardiff Cross Challenge before jumping from No.11 to No.4 on the UK all-time half-marathon rankings with a big PB of 60:32 in Valencia.
Guided by Alan Storey and now Renato Canova, he is keen to bury the ghost of his 60th place at the 2019 European Cross Country Championships when he lines up at the 2022 event in Turin, Italy, on December 11.
In this form Cairess looks set to do that, but he will also lead a strong British team that includes Hugo Milner, Marc Scott and Jack Rowe.
After settling into the lead pack in the early stages, Cairess hit the front around halfway and, after building a lead, his victory did not look in doubt as his rivals battled behind him.
Milner proved strongest as he charged through to finish second place – 11 seconds behind Cairess’s 29:19. It was a great turnaround in form for for the man who was only fourth in the Milton Keynes Cross Challenge a fortnight earlier.
Scott, the second-fastest Brit in history over 5000m and 10,000m on the track, made a welcome return to the cross-country scene as he finished third, just three seconds behind Milner. The Olympian and former Great North Run winner is likely to go better if the course is firmer underfoot in Turin, too.
Rowe, the Euro trials winner in 2021, was a further three seconds behind in fourth place, securing selection for Turin amid a stacked line-up.
Mahamed Mahamed was fifth, Ben Connor sixth and Axel Vang Christiansen of Denmark in seventh.
Christiansen is the reigning European under-20 champion and, still only 18, he can defend his title in Turin. He was using Liverpool as a warm-up race as the Dane is currently studying at the University of Birmingham. The event did not go that smoothly for him, either, as he fell at roughly the halfway point.
Reigning European under-23 champion Charles Hicks was not in Liverpool as he only won the NCAA title in Oklahoma one week earlier. However, he is likely to be named in the GB team for Turin this week alongside Zak Mahamed, Matt Stonier, Joe Wigfield and Tomer Tarragano – the leading under-23 finishers in Liverpool in 8th to 11th overall.
Warner-Judd in control
Warner-Judd was put under pressure in the senior women’s race by Megan Keith as the 2021 European under-20 cross-country champion forced the pace in the middle of the race. However, the Olympian and Abbie Donnelly dug in to stay in contact before Warner-Judd surged clear with around 1km to go to win by five seconds.
Like Cairess, Warner-Judd has had a good year as she raced at all three major outdoor championships. She also got married this autumn and in Liverpool successfully defended the title she won 12 months ago at the same venue.
Keith held on to second place ahead of Donnelly, with Amy-Eloise Markovc finishing strongly in fourth as Jess Gibbon finished fifth.
Close behind was Grace Carson in sixth, Poppy Tank seventh, Alexandra Millard eighth, Cari Hughes ninth and Sarah Astin 10th.
Keith was leading under-23 home ahead of Carson and Millard, plus Yasmin Marghini (11th overall) and Alice Goodall (13th overall).
Gemma Steel, the former European champion now aged 37, was 14th. Other big names further down the field included Lily Partridge in 17th, Melissa Courtney-Bryant in 19th, Izzy Fry in 21st and Steph Twell in 22nd.
Walcott-Nolan back to winning ways
The racing programme kicked off at 10.30am with the short-course relay trials races, with Revee Walcott-Nolan and James Heneghan emerging as winners.
Khahisa Mhlanga finished close behind Walcott-Nolan as they both sealed selection for Turin, while Callum Elson was runner-up to Heneghan.
Charlie Grice and Hannah Nuttall were third in each race.
It marked a great comeback to fitness for Walcott-Nolan. The Luton athlete ran in the Olympics over 1500m last year but has barely raced in 2022 after a shin injury ruled her out of the summer.
For Heneghan, the 3:41 1500m man from Wales out-kicked Grice in the home straight with Elson finishing strongly in second. Impressively, Elson and Grice returned later for a training run in the senior men’s 10km race.
The team will travel to Italy to defend their European relay title, although these trials races were a little thin on entries with 800m man Max Burgin among the no-shows.
Fitzgerald and Barnicoat take junior wins
Innes Fitzgerald produced the most emphatic win of the day when the 16-year-old enjoyed a gun-to-tape victory in the combined women’s under-17 and under-20 trials race.
The Exeter Harrier, who doesn’t turn 17 until April, blasted into the lead and built up a huge advantage as she finished 18 seconds ahead of Emma Bates, the leading under-20 athlete who closed in strongly to take second, with Megan Harris third, Beatrice Wood fourth, Rebecca Flaherty fifth and Alice Wright sixth.
Fitzgerald only began training seriously at the start of this year under the guidance of Gavin Pavey, the husband-coach of Jo Pavey. In the summer she smashed Jess Judd’s British under-17 3000m record with 8:59.67 before taking the Mini London Marathon and Cardiff Cross Challenge victories in convincing style in the run-up to Liverpool.
Will Barnicoat led the GB junior men’s team to gold at the European Cross Country Championships in Dublin and he was in fine form on Saturday as he won the under-20 men’s trial, which means he will again lead the squad in Italy in a fortnight’s time.
The Aldershot, Farnham & District athlete broke away with English Schools 800m champion Sam Mills of Exeter but then cut loose in the closing stages to win by 21 seconds.
Mills held on for second as Luke Birdseye took third ahead of Jacob Deacon, Johnny Livingstone, Ed Bird, Matthew Ramsden and Rowan Miell-Ingram, although only the top five are guaranteed selection for the European Championships.
Innes Fitzgerald blasts to an emphatic victory in the combined U17/20 women’s race at the Liverpool Cross Challenge.
Coached by Gavin Pavey, the Exeter athlete is only 16 and doesn’t turn 17 until April. pic.twitter.com/WYu3FDhmHD
— AW (@AthleticsWeekly) November 26, 2022
Ulfig pips Grime
Arguably the most exciting finish of the day came in the under-15 boys’ race when Owen Ulfig of Wolverhampton & Bilston out-kicked Evan Grime of Salford during a gruelling duel down the long home straight to win by one second.
With the course getting increasingly muddy during the day, Shaikira King of Wreake & Soar Valley powered to victory in the under-15 girls’ race ahead of Isla McGowan and Katie Pye.
Jasmine Christmas of Cambridge & Coleridge took the under-13 girls’ race by six seconds from Maya Schofield and Penelope Boyle.
Fred Jones of Wolverhampton & Bilston also took a convincing victory as he finished 16 seconds ahead of Noah Homer and William Delamere in the under-13 boys’ race.
The under-11 races, meanwhile, were won by Lucy Delamere and Harri Tancrel.
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