SUNDERLAND Harriers swept to an unexpected victory amid controversy in the senior men’s four-stage cross country relay at Farringdon on Saturday.
The hosts took the title for the first time since 2009 after Loftus Athletics Club were disqualified for including an ineligible runner in their four-man squad.
The North Yorkshire outfit had won the race by just four seconds from the Wearsiders after Paul Butler (9.18) had passed Sunderland’s Craig Isherwood (9.27) on the anchor leg.
But Loftus, on leg two, had included Stephen Hepples, a first claim member of southern club Newham and Essex Beagles, which disqualified him from competing in the race for his local club.
Loftus appealed against the decision but that was rejected by the race referee as the race was for first claim club members only.
A record turnout of 32 senior teams saw Sunderland finish seventh on the opening leg through Nathan Reed’s run of 9.18. The 20-year-old Hall Farm athlete then handed over to Mark Hood, making a welcome return to competition after illness had put him on the sidelines for most of the summer.
The three-time North East cross country champion showed that he has returned to good health by clocking the fastest of time of the day with a scintillating lap of 8.35.
Hood also had Hepples breathing down his neck for the whole stage as he had been only one second behind the Sunderland runner at the changeover.
But Hood repelled the international’s challenge to hold the one second advantage to the finish. Hepples clocked an unofficial 8.36.
Hood, a primary school teacher, said: “Since March I was going down with all sorts of bugs and when it came to the weekend I didn’t have the energy to train. But during the last few weeks I have felt a lot better and I’m now managing about 85 miles a week.
“I’m not doing the Great North Run but I intend doing the Northern Road Relays and Sherman Cup cross country at the end of the month.’’
Hood handed over to third leg runner Damien Weston and he held onto first place with his stint of 9.37 before sending Isherwood on his way for a surprising victory. Sunderland’s total time was 36.57, Tyne Bridge were a distant second on 38.15 and Heaton third (38.44).
Durham City finished seventh (39.49) with Daniel Jenkin (9.07), Michael Grimes (9.06), Stephen Marshall (10.56) and Michael Dickson (10.40).
Sunderland Strollers finished 16th with Steve Rankin (9.58), Steve McMahon (10.02), Aidan Crowe (10.57) and Adnan Khan (11.34). Houghton Harriers were 22nd through Thomas Grey (10.04), Alan Foster (10.48), Shaun McGrath (11.09) and Ross Lambton (12.03).
In the veterans’ over-40 relay, ran in conjunction with the seniors, Sunderland Harriers lost their title to Elswick who won in 39.14. Tyne Bridge were second (39.41) and Sunderland clocked 41.30 in third.
The Sunderland team was Paul Redman (fourth – 10.17), Paul Cooper (fourth – 11.07), Alan Hodgson (third – 10.14) and Paul Merrison (third – 10.07).
Sunderland Strollers finished sixth (45.22) with Kevin O’Neil (11.09), Tim Alsop (10.24), Paul Dunlop (11.35) and Tony Allen (12.14).
Durham City Harrier Rosie Smith was a clear winner of the women’s race, clocking 9.46 to win by 47 seconds from her clubmate Aiveen Fox (10.33). Elswick’s Phillipa Williams was third (10.52). Kelly Bentley of Houghton Harriers was 17th (12.31) and Sophie Pearson 29th (13.23). Sunderland Stroller Joy Champion finished 33rd (13.34).