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Graffin retains cross-country title

ALLEN GRAFFIN (Belgrave Harriers) from Tonbridge emerged from injury exile to retain his senior men's title in the Kent Cross-Country Championships at Wildernesse School at Sevenoaks. The former GB World Championships team member was delighted just to be racing again after having been sidelined for seven months with an obstinate hamstring injury.

The early pace had been set by the sensation of this season, Michael Coleman (Medway and Maidstone), who tried twice in the opening few miles to break away with positive surges on the hills around the back of this tricky four lap circuit. Barry Royden (Medway and Maidstone) was also hanging on gamely in search of his eighth county title despite a heavy cold.

Graffin took control just after halfway and, although Coleman never conceded, the finishing margin of 11 seconds was more comfortable than it appeared. Royden was a minute in arrears of the leaders who are both genuine contenders for the World Championships in Dublin in two months.

His reward was a 12th consecutive individual medal plus team gold medals at both six and 12 to score for Medway and Maidstone who fielded 13 athletes in the resplendent red and black strip of the newly merged club.

The top six were completed by Huw Evans (Tonbridge), Anthony Webb (Ashford) and Darrell Smith of the host club, Sevenoaks.

Roy Smith (seventh) led Blackheath Harriers to second place as Andrew Thomas (eighth), Gareth Williams (10th), Chris Knight (15th) and Alan McDougall (19th) sealed the victory for Medway and Maidstone.

With one team title in the bag, it was not long before Pat Curran (23rd), Geoff Baxter (29th), Tim Alexander (33rd), Alan Newman (46th), Lee McMeekin (52nd) and Paul Firmin (65th) had secured the 12 to score gold medals with Ivon Whitmore (68th) in reserve.

The senior women's race matched the winning margin of 11 seconds in the men's championship but produced new team and individual winners in controversial circumstances.

Defending champion, Andrea Green of Dartford Harriers, was present but unable to compete as no entry had been received after an apparent misunderstanding between Green and her team manager. Charlotte Dale (Invicta) was entered but was denied the opportunity of competing against the seniors after an objection was received by county officials who had earlier granted special dispensation to help the outstanding 17-year-old prepare for the World Championships.

As the spectators discussed the athletes who were not running, Louise Watson (Medway and Maidstone), set off determined to add to her collection of five previous titles.Watson built a healthy lead on the first large lap and looked to be heading for victory until the over-40 veteran, Alison Fletcher (Dulwich Runners), began to motor.

As the athletes disappeared into the mist on the final lap Watson still led by five seconds, but the position had been reversed by the time they returned to the main sports field with 600m to run.

Fletcher held her form for her best ever result on the country and who would bet against her taking another World Veteran's title later this year on this evidence of her currrent form.

Fletcher set up Dulwich for a memorable team victory over Medway and Maidstone for whom Fiona Palmer (12th) and Emma Harraden (13th) completed the scoring with Berni Jameson (17th) in reserve. Jennie Butler (third) and Siobhan Buss (fourth) helped Blackheath Harriers to finish third team as Helen Wheeler (Ashford) and Janice Moorekite (Invicta) closed the top six.

If Jermaine Mays (Kent AC) had not won the under-20 men's race, it would have been a major surprise. The third ranked junior in Great Britain at the steeplechase had already claimed three gold medals and he made no mistakes this year to pocket a fourth in his final appearance in this age group.

Mays led Kent AC to a successful defence of their team title as Andrew Rayner (Blackheath) and Jamie Atkinson (Sevenoaks) picked up the other coloured medals ahead of Darren Mitchell (Medway and Maidstone) who fell heavily on the slick surface. There was more drama in the under-20 women's race where a frustrated Dale stormed to possibly the largest winning margin ever seen after watching the senior race unfold.

Henrietta Freeman (Invicta) who has also tasted international success in the sport of triathlon, completely misjudged the race distance and withdrew in tears with a full lap still to run. Unaware of the turmoil behind, Dale continued serenely to build her lead before taking the title with over five minutes to spare. Despite Freeman's exit the Invicta East Kent club retained their team trophy unopposed.

in the younger age groups there were only two successful title defences and one athlete stepped up an age group to claim another victory.

Ollie Freeman (Invicta) was the precocious talent who gained a gold medal in a higher category this year. The under-15 champion enjoyed a seemless transition to the under-17 title as Medway and Maidstone, with a magnificent 12-man team, were the winning club through the efforts of Matt Whiting (fifth), Ciaran Grimes (sixth) and Steve Webb (seventh).

Jenni Pereira (Medway and Maidstone) retained her under-17 women's title and Jessica Trowbridge (second) and Fallon Lafferty (sixth) combined to retain the team awards from Cambridge Harriers.

Aidan Lowicz-Brady of Deal Triathletes was the new name who took the under-15 boys race with James Hillary (Tonbridge) and Ben Tyler (Medway and Maidstone) leading their respective teams to first and second places over Ashford AC.

Dartford Harriers had their moment of glory when Joanna Roberts won the under-15 girls race, having progressed from the silver medal at under-13 level last year.

Alex Lenzan (Bexley) took the silver from Alice Clark who led Ashford AC to a successful title defence.

Medway and Maidstone were runners-up to Ashford with Louise Davies (fifth) and Nicola Hardman (sixth) scoring heavily.

Ashford AC took a double victory in the under-13 boys event as Matt Dawson led the charge from Medway and Maidstone's Jack Tyler who added a team silver to his individual reward.

Rebeccah Taylor (Blackheath) was the only other champion to defend a title and it was a comfortable win for her in the under-13 girls race. Megan Edwards (Dartford) took the silver and Sorrel Hunter (Ashford) the bronze as Dartford Harriers closed their scoring team three points clear of Medway and Maidstone for whom Leanne Collier just missed an individual medal.

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