Wimborne Athletic Club

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Grace is National Champion – 22 February 2014

Reporting from Nottingham.

Team Copeland (Mark, Piers, Grace & Lisa) on a day they’ll never forget

This was the big one. In all there were more than 10,000 people at the National Cross-Country Championships this year. Of those 4,686 were competitors – a record number. The venue was Wollaton Hall. The grand Elizabethan building on the hill makes a fine site, and the grounds, complete with herds of deer and lake, really do make it a splendid setting for a cross-country event. Wollaton Hall (built in the 1580s) featured as Wayne Manor in the 2011 Batman movie The Dark Night Rises.

We’ve seen the wettest winter for years in the south of England and it was great to see some sunshine in Nottingham and some firmer ground. However, the course designers were determined that the competitors would get their feet wet so there was a stream to leap across and a couple of sections that were ‘very, very boggy’. To add further interest, for most age-groups there were some big logs which had been placed across the course and these had to be jumped.

Some of us travelled up the previous day. This gave us the chance to walk the course, and a group of us met up the previous evening for a very relaxed and enjoyable meal.

The first race of the day to feature Wimborne interest was the 4.5k under-15 boys. We were represented by Piers Copeland. Piers had developed a hacking cough in the week leading up to the race so was in pretty poor shape. However, he made little of his predicament and went out and ran bravely. He finished easily in the top of half of the field, which in the circumstances was a great achievement. However, in no way does it reflect what he is really capable of. Cross-country is a winter sport and few of us rarely get through a winter without some sort of cough or cold, Piers just got desperately unlucky. Fortunately he didn’t pass on his illness to anyone else in his family!

Next up was the 3k under-13 girls race. Grace Copeland was going into this as the South West England Champion, and she had placed 4th in the South of England Championships at Parliament Hill. The best from the South where there again, along with what the Midlands and North of England had to offer. At the present time the cream of athletes in this age-group appear to come from the South of England … so Grace would be battling amongst athletes she was familiar with. Grace is as experienced as anybody in this age-group and on numerous occasions has shown great tactical nous when running her races. 

All the races were filmed, and we see that after 200metres Grace is some way off the front perhaps about 50th. The girls head up the hill into a sweeping curve and by the time they come back down the hill, the favourites have started to establish themselves at the head of the field, with Grace placed around 12th. As the race develops she steadily chips away at a few places. As they run alongside the lake we see her again (now 5th), with all the leaders still quite close together, prior to entering the very, very boggy bit. Alex Brown of Herne Hill Harriers then made what looked to be a decisive break. Heading into the final bend at the top of the hill she had a lead of around 50 metres over Grace, who had by now moved into second.  Grace had close company and at this point it looked like she would now be running hard to the finish to protect the silver medal.

Grace hadn’t given up on the bigger prize though, and although the gap looked too big it was evident that it was closing very quickly. Even with 10 metres to go there looked too much to make up, but somehow Grace found something extra and just got to the tape first to take a win by the narrowest of margins. Nigel Harding  (the Echo’s athletics reporter) summed it up beautifully when he said, ‘That finish is outrageous. Even Robin Hood couldn't have got away with that!’ There was a nervous wait before the winner was announced, and once Grace had been handed a red rose, we were able to breathe a sigh of relief. Grace and Alex Brown were awarded the same time, and Grace’s good friend and Hampshire League rival (and South of England Champion) Josie Czura was four seconds back and claimed third. Alex handled the disappointment of being pipped on the line with great dignity and she’s a credit to her club and the sport. Alex was ranked No. 1 in the UK for 1500m for her age group last season with Grace No. 2, although Grace did win a race at Kingston over 1500m last July which had four of the top five finishers at Wollaton. To see the footage of Grace’s race at Wollaton click here


… it’s incredible just how close it was!

After all that excitement, next up were our under-17 men – Jason Sotheran and Ryan Walbridge. Our guys spent much of the race in close proximity to each other. The gap widened however once Ryan had tweaked his back after being caught out by uneven ground on one of the boggy sections … both of our guys finished in the top 100 … just!

In the 10k under-20s race we had Callum Kennedy competing. Callum made a good steady start and continued to make progress through the field from there onwards. Having checked the stats on his Garmin and subsequently against Power of 10 he was reasonably pleased with how his race panned out on a course that didn’t particularly suit him (not hilly enough!).

Wimborne’s final race of the day was the 3k under-13 boys, when we saw how well our guys did we were rueing only having three of them out there … we needed four for a team. The star performer here was Liam Murphy-Parry, who was ill earlier in the week and looked like he might not even make it at one stage. Under those circumstances 28th in the Nationals is an exceptional performance. Michael Johnson and Elliott Symes both ran well too, and they were comfortably top half of the field in what were their first appearances in a national cross-country event. Michael also took a tumble so he lost a little time there, so he could have been even faster!

We made our way across to the presentations marquee. The dignataries were introduced to the audience and these included representatives from Saucony (the sponsor), the English Cross Country Association and the Sheriff of Nottingham … cue booing from those gathered … it was like being at the panto! By the wry small that appeared on the Sheriff’s face, he’s used to this sort of thing. The girls where awarded their medals and Grace got the trophy too. The significance of her performance was emphasised when looking at the trophy. It had the names of previous winners and these included athletes who have gone on to establish themselves in international events such as Emilia Gorecka and Jessica Judd.

It had been a day to remember, Grace had become Wimborne AC’s first ever National Cross Country Champion. For Grace it’s reward for many years of hard work, it’s been achieved with outstanding support from the rest of the family and all those who have worked with Grace in some capacity, either as training partners or coaches, can reflect in the glory, having played some small part in the story.

WAC result

Under-15 boys (346 runners)

147 – Piers Copeland – 16:09

Under-13 girls (431 runners)

1 – Grace Copeland – 11:42 – ENGLISH NATIONAL CHAMPION

Under-17 men (272 runners)

73 – Jason Sotheran – 21:47
100 – Ryan Walbridge – 22:06

Under-20 men (186 runners)

69 – Callum Kennedy – 34:33

Under-13 boys (385 runners)

28 – Liam Murphy-Parry – 11:45
119 – Michael Johnson – 12:29
155 – Elliott Symes – 12:45



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