SUNDERLAND Harriers’ senior men’s team bid to get back among the front runners in the Durham City Harriers’ popular Cathedral Cross Country Relays at the Racecourse on Sunday.
They go into the three-stage relay over a fast, flat course of two laps of 1500m with a proud record of success.
But over the last two years their form has slumped, due to injuries and two of their athletes leaving the club for pastures new.
Since 2004 they have won the event three times and have been placed runners-up also three times. In 2010 the relay was cancelled due to snow and ice and, in 2011, they finished eighth and last year they plummeted to a lowly 18th.
Mark Hood, Patrick Martin and Gavin Massingham, who were integral members of the winning team, were all absent in 2011 and 2012. Martin moved to the North West and eventually joined Stockport Harriers, as did his brother Jack. Massingham and Hood were struggling with injuries and still are. Massingham is recovering from an Achilles’ tendon operation. He shortly leaves to teach English in Hong Kong.
Now the team will take on a new look with Eritrean Olympian Weynay Ghebresilasie making his second appearance for the Wearsiders. The 18-year-old, on his debut in the North Eastern Harrier League at Jarrow in December, clocked the fastest time of the day and a performance of similar merit will be his goal in Green Lane. Club captain Alan Hodgson will select his remaining two places from Nathan Reed, Oliver James and Craig Isherwood. All three athletes are in good form with James, also 18, being the fifth fastest runner at Jarrow, while Reed and Isherwood both won team bronze medals in the North Eastern Counties Cross Country Championships at Hartlepool in December.
The fastest stage time set on the course is by New Marske’s Ricky Stevenson’s run of 8.17 from 2008.
As well as the senior men’s relay there are events for veteran men and senior and veteran women. In the veteran men’s relay, Sunderland has been the most successful club since 2004 with four wins, three second places and one third. The event also hosts the North East Veterans’ Championship with medals to be won in each of the categories.
Veterans’ captain Rob Rush, at the forefront of the club’s success over the years, has the difficult task of selecting teams to maintain the club’s run of glory.
He said: “We have one or two problems with injuries, but I expect we will again turn out medal winning teams.’’
In the 35-44 age group, will select the A team from Steve Potts, Steve Graham, Steven Gordon and Ian Dixon. The over-45s, who defend their title, may be without their top man Brian Rushworth who pulled up in training last Sunday with a knee injury. Others in contention are Tim Field, George Harden, Paul Merrison, Ken Bell, Paul Redman and Jon Dobson.
The over-55s also defend their title and they could field the same gold medal team as last year in Peter Richardson, Jim Wightman and Billy Bittlestone.
Sunderland have their best ever entry, with five veteran teams, three senior men’s teams and two women’s teams entered. Athletes are asked to turn up well in advance of their scheduled race to aid team selection.
Timetable: 10.15 Veteran men, 10.55 Senior women/Veteran women, 11.35 Senior Men.
H Sunderland Harriers’ promising young sprinters, Hollie Lancaster and Logan Powell, compete in the under-17 age group at the North of England Indoor Championships at Don Valley at Sheffield at the weekend.