BY GEORGE MALLETT
Hercules Wimbledon Athletic Club started their Surrey League Cross Country Division One defence in solid but frustrating fashion as they were edged out by Belgrave Harriers at Richmond Park on Saturday by just two points.
Hercules, who have won three of the last four campaigns, managed a score of 255 from their 10 counters to Belgrave’s 253. It will be of some comfort to the defending champions that with just a quarter of the campaign complete it is already edging towards a two-horse race with Herne Hill Harriers already 175 points behind in third.
First home for Hercules was Dan Cliffe in eighth, edging back towards somewhere near his best form. In 2015 nobody in the UK ran a quicker 5km than Cliffe and while he has endured a difficult couple of years with injury he has displayed stronger performances of late, including last weekend where he was third fastest of the Hercules sextet that finished sixth in the National Road Relays.
Next home was fellow A team member Henry Silverstein, a younger athlete who has enjoyed a breakout Autumn. Silverstein, the first leg runner last weekend, was 14th with a host of Hercules athletes following him home.
Charlie Eastaugh was 10 seconds behind in 16th, ahead of Ed Mallett in 18th, with George Mallett in 21st. Indeed with the exception of Cliffe, Hercules’ nine other scorers were all within just over a minute.
Cross-country captain James Stockings came home in 27th with Rhys Boorman in 31st. Charlie Wyllie (38th), Tom Jervis (40th) and Eoin Brady (42nd) completed the scoring10.
The race was notable also as the last for club stalwart Finn Johnson before he moves to Northern Ireland.
Johnson has competed in the competition 24 times since 2016, finishing as high as fifth in 2018 with six further top-20 placings. It is goodbye for now as Johnson, who has a child due in early 2024, promises to return for the important fixtures.
Hercules women also competed earlier in the day finishing ninth with their five scorers. Claire Grima was first home in 36th followed by Poppy Robson (49th), Matilde Lomba (55th), Philippa Mitchell (56th) and Gina Galbraith (78th).
Hercules were hit by the absence of three usual heavy hitters in the men’s side to other competitions.
Jonathan Cornish improved on a three-year-old personal best by finishing an impressive third at the Bath Half on Sunday in 65:05. The 10-second improvement was good enough for third on the day in a typically stacked field in Somerset and sees him consolidate his third place ranking on the Hercules all-time list.
Only former world cross-country top-10 placer Dave Clarke and Ethiopian Dereje Kebede have gone quicker.
Andrew Penney took to the Cabbage Patch 10 Miler in Twickenham where he finished fourth in 49:41. It saw him jump from 19th to ninth in Hercules’ all-time list.
Former cross-country captain Fred Slemeck took on the Amsterdam Marathon on Sunday where he finished 57th in 2:26:12. It is less than 20 seconds outside the personal best he set in debuting over the distance earlier this year in London. That time was 15th on the all-time list.
PICTURE: SHEILA KEATING
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