A look ahead to this weekend’s BUCS Cross Country Championships in Brighton

Emelia Gorecka, Jess Judd and Jonny Hay are set to be among the athletes in action at Saturday’s annual British Universities’ and Colleges Cross Country Championships to be hosted by the University of Sussex, writes Claire Thomas.

With the field boasting a number of athletes who recently competed at the Edinburgh Cross or in Samokov at the European Championships, spectators at Stanmer Park are sure to witness some high-calibre competition.

In the women’s race, Birmingham will be defending its title after pipping St Mary’s to team gold 12 months ago. Defending champion Georgia Taylor-Brown of Leeds Met is out with injury, though, while European under-23 champion Rhona Auckland from Edinburgh will hope to return strong enough after an Achilles problem.

“I have been aqua-jogging and gyming my heart out, so am hoping that my fitness will be reasonable and that I can be back in time for Sussex – I’m determined to race!” she said.

While Auckland says she’ll be happy just to make it to the start line feeling fit, Gorecka – coming off the back of her stunning victory in Edinburgh – has set her sights high.

“Having won BUCS in my first year, and coming second last year, I would love to win it again,” she explained. But even without last year’s winner Taylor-Brown, the women’s field promises to be competitive, as the Royal Holloway student acknowledges: “The BUCS cross country is always a good competition and certainly there will be a few strong contenders.

“It will be great to race against my European cross country team mates again, and there will be some new faces on the BUCS scene from the first years, which is always interesting.”

A notable BUCS debutante is Judd, back from Samokov with a silver in the under-20 event and racing for the first time for Loughborough. Amy Griffiths, fifth at the European Championships, will run for St. Mary’s, while a trio of GB athletes – Becky Straw, Rebecca Murray and Maryse Haynes – are hoping to retain Birmingham’s team title.

St Mary’s will be attempting to successfully defend the men’s team title, although they are likely to be without Richard Goodman, the winner of the 2014 race in Stirling, due to injury.

They will face tough opposition from Birmingham, however, as the Midlands university features the silver and bronze medallists behind Goodman last year – Hay and Jonny Davies.

Despite injuries and illness earlier in the season, Davies made the under-23 team for Samokov where he placed 30th, and has since been able to train consistently.

“I feel confident that I’ve moved on a level from last year,” he said. He names Callum Hawkins as a serious contender, along with Hay, but he has an advantage over both having raced at Sussex before, winning the 2012 Southern Championships.

Jamie Seddon, Sussex cross country captain, is confident in his club’s credentials as hosts. “Stanmer Park has held a number of high-profile races in the past,” he said. “There are challenging sections, some parts are particularly narrow which will require some tactics to navigate efficiently.

“The athletics club at the University has grown tremendously in the last couple of years and we think we’ve put together a great event for everyone involved, and of course there’s the equally prestigious BUCS after-party to look forward to in the evening!”

Seddon also believes the hosts will make their mark on the rankings and added: “The likes of 2:19 marathon runner and winner of the recent Sussex County Championships, Jon Pepper, head up the A team along with Max Thomas who recently finished third in the same race.

“The women’s team is also looking stronger than ever before, so we’re quietly confident of a medal somewhere!”

>> See the February 5 issue of Athletics Weekly for several pages of photographs, reports and results from Stanmer Park