Early in the morning on the twenty-third of October, as the mist hung low in the trees and the moon showed its pale face from behind the clouds, it was almost as if South Park itself was anticipating the drama that would later unfold on its unforgiving slopes. With every stake, flag, and sprinkling of flour the excitement was building. And as the dreaming spires were gradually revealed by the lifting fog, so was a course that would later decide this year’s Oxford Cross Country Champions.
Owing to the introduction of the Howard Online Registration System, sign ups were already looking strong before anyone had even turned up. Nevertheless, it was still a relief when the competitors, one-by-one, began to appear in real life and set out on their warm-ups and other such pre-race rituals.
First up were the women, with defending champion Bethanie Murray fresh from her cross country debut in Ireland the previous weekend. Despite her international roots, Beth was feeling particularly at home on this Oxford course. So much so that she got a bit too close for comfort with the turf on her way to the start line, no thanks to a minor incident with a rabbit-hole. With marshals in position and course details explained, the dulcet tones of Alex Howard set the girls on their way and it was Beth who immediately took charge at the front, closely followed by Dani Chattenton. By the start of the second lap, Beth had a commanding lead with Dani well clear in second. Behind the leading pair there had been a battle unfolding for the minor places throughout the race and it was Hannah Plaschkes who came through to take third place with an impressive performance, reminiscent of her dominant seconds match victory two years earlier. There was a sprint for the line as women’s captain Helene Greenwood came home in fourth place, just ahead of new recruit Helen Record. In sixth was Sarah McCuaig, in seventh and the first fresher Anna Sharp, and closing-out the top eight Rachel Skokowski.
Cotter did all he could to close the gap on the climb, but Christophi’s impressive downhill speed brought it home for his second Cuppers victory
Forty-five minutes after the women had set-off to tackle the ups and downs of this gruelling course, it was the turn of the men. The mass of eighty made for an impressive sight as they embarked on the opening uphill charge. Appearing first from behind the trees was Eoghan Totten, taking control of the early pace, but all the big names were queueing up in his slipstream. A lap-and-a-half later Luke Cotter, Luuk Metselaar and Will Christofi had established a leading trio with a comfortable margin that looked to have sealed the podium. Chasing hard was another group of three, containing men’s vice-captain Dan Mulryan, defending champion Jamie Parkinson, and track-specialist Miles Weatherseed. The third, and last, lap provided great spectating as the front three remained locked together until Christofi put in a surge on the inside, downhill section and Cotter pulled clear in second. Luke did all he could to close the gap on the climb, but Will’s impressive downhill speed struck again and brought it home for his second Cuppers victory. Impressive running from Luke and Luuk saw them wrap up the medals (yes, there were actual medals). With a surge up the final straight, it was JP who took fourth, Dan fifth and Miles sixth. No doubt glad to emerge onto the open finishing straight from the danger of trees (and anything that might fall from them) John Spill put in a very strong run to claim seventh place and first fresher, followed by Eoghan in eighth.
Away from the front end of the races, there were some gutsy performances right the way through the field and it was amazing to see such a great turn-out of both men and women. Congratulations to absolutely everyone who took part and gave it their all on a highly demanding course.
Results were eagerly anticipated, mostly thanks to the debut of some very shiny new trophies. In the regal surroundings of the King’s Arms, it was announced that the first ever etchings on the glistening, un-touched plates of glory would be none other than St. Hilda’s for the women, and Balliol for the men.
A fantastic day was concluded by pub golf (what else?) and general merriment from one and all. Thanks must go to Alex and Bethanie for their organisational work and to all of the helpers and marshals who ensured the event ran smoothly. The Varsity hype has been building gradually since we set foot on the untrodden paths of Cleeve for pre-season training and Cuppers has well and truly raised the bar as we now look ahead, first to Milton Keynes and then on to the big day.