Record turnout for Championships

Mark Hood.

Mark Hood.

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RECORD entries have been received for the 108th North Eastern Counties Cross Country Championships at South Shields on Saturday.

A total of 1314 athletes have entered the 10 events on the programme with the senior men’s race attracting 536 runners and the senior women 278.

These numbers are greatly superior to that received for any other previous North East championships, showing, once again, the growing participant rate of the sport.

Included in the senior men’s race are two London Olympians in Morpeth Harrier Nick McCormick (5000m) and Gateshead Harrier Ross Murray (1500m). Both could make their senior debuts over the 12.4k course at Temple Park. They will be among the favourites to win a medal along with Durham City Harrier Dan Garbutt, Morpeth’s Nick Swinburn, Richard Morrell, Peter Newton, Lewis Timmins, Wallsend’s Yared Hagos and former Sunderland Harrier Jack Martin, now running for Stockport. His brother Patrick won the title in 2009 in Sunderland Harriers colours.

Sunderland Harriers will be led by their three times North East champion Mark Hood, who has been suffering from a sore knee following his marathon debut in Frankfurt in October. His last North East triumph came in 2008 and although keen to add another success to his honours list, the task maybe beyond him this time.

The Wearsiders, without Hood, surprised many last year when they picked-up team bronze with a weakened squad at Hartlepool. Another medal winning performance has been targeted on Saturday by their ambitious team manager Albert James.

In support of Hood, in the six-to-count team race, will be Kevin Calvert, Craig Isherwood, Iain Dixon, Steve Potts, Paul Merrison, Nathan Reed, Graeme Lancaster and Noel Hitchcock. Morpeth, Gateshead, Durham and Tyne Bridge Harriers will be the teams in the medal fray, along with Sunderland, who have 21 runners entered.

Sunderland Stroller Alyson Dixon is down to run in the senior women’s race. The World Championship marathon runner will be returning to the championships after a long absence. But she showed she is in good form over the softer ground by running the fastest time in the Harrier League at Wallington two weeks ago. In support of Dixon in the three-to-count team race will be Ashleigh Thorpe and Rachael Ball. They face strong opposition from holders Middlesbrough and Cleveland, Durham City, Wallsend and Jarrow for a team medal.

Among Dixon’s rivals for the title will be the 2011 champion Rosie Smith of Durham City Harriers and Wallsend’s marathon international Sonia Samuels.

Sunderland Harrier Oliver James will be after a good run in the under-20s junior men’s race, where he will face Gateshead’s Calum Johnson and Shildon’s Cameron Boyek. James, back in Sunderland on holiday from his American University, will be looking for an improved performance in his third competition since his return. He failed to finish at the European Trials in Liverpool and then finished with the ninth fastest time in the Harrier League at Wallington after losing his shoe and running over two miles without it.

The first three finishers in all the races in the championships will gain automatic selection for the North East Team for the Inter Counties Championships at Birmingham on March 8.

Timetable: Under-13 Boys 11.00am, Under-13 Girls 11.15, Under-15 Boys 11.30, Under-15 Girls 11.45, Under17/20 Women 12.00 noon, Under-20 Men 12.20, Senior Men 1.00, Senior Women 1.55, Under-17 Men 2.30.