The decision of the National Cross Country Championship for 1922 provided as pretty a spectacle and compelling contest, last Saturday, one could wish to see. Hereford took the affair to its bosom, and the elements collaborated in giving the festival a warm welcome - the Racecourse, which was the venue, being brilliant with the play of a genial sun upon the variegated costumes the competitors, and the whole picture being framed by snow-splashed hills.
There was a distinct touch of class about it all, and the only offending feature was that a French enthusiast should have been 'welshed' by one of the many 'bookies' who defied the placarded betting prohibition.
One heartily re-echoes the hope of the Mayor of Hereford and the President of the National Union, expressed at the civic reception of officials prior to the race, that the celebration of championship at Hereford will make a great revival of amateur athleticism in the district.
I have remarked that Saturday's championship celebration was raised above the ordinary there were several contributory factors Joseph Guillemot, the French National champion, Olympic 5,000 meters victor, and hero of the Windsor National; L. Duquesne second in the French National race, and J. Schnellmann, who beat him in the Prix de Lemmononier last January; W. Freeman, the winner of the Doncaster race; H. W. Payne and Signaller Cottrell, the great Southern rivals, entered either as individuals or team members, were names people were conjuring with before the event, while others travelled from either North or South (Hereford is under Midlands jurisdiction), telling of real class runners they were bringing and of surprises in store.
Also, no one beforehand could foretell what the result of the team contest would be.
A skillful exhibition resulted. Guillemot won the individual honours by masterly tactics; H. Eckersley (West Lancashire junior and Northern junior champion) - a youngster of 18 years who is being tutored by Chris Vose, provided the surprise right enough by actually challenging the supremacy of the Frenchman and finishing ahead of the British field. E. Thomas, the Welsh champion, showed clever running; Blewitt and Freeman displayed pluck and ability above the average when overcoming 'bad-times': Birchfield won the team race with almost a record total of points: and a junior team from the village of Bramley ran into fourth place by sheer enthusiasm.
There were one or two disappointments to give the achievements greater merit; Hallamshire, for instance, falling back to tenth position (Hardwick and Raynes missed the train at Sheffield and E. Glover was suffering from a leg injury sustained a week before the Northern), and North Staffs. H. being outside the first six; while the rejoicings of the North were tempered by the failure of Bowler even to reproduce his Stockton form.
The actual race, however, was a delightful thing to watch. The distance was 10 miles and 44 yards, and the course, which could not be described as heavy, included 4,612 yards of arable land.
Mr A. E. Machin, who as president, referee, and starter carried out his duties and performed other useful little offices with that ability and consideration characteristic of him, got the lads away from the starting pens with fairness to all, eight minutes alter the specified hour - though the qualification did not matter. The arrangements helped to a clear get-a-way for the 237 competitors (26 individuals and 22 teams), and there was a nice long straight stretch for sorting-out purposes.
On completion of the first circuit of the racecourse and passing the lap scorers the leaders were Freeman, Blewitt, Beman, Guillemot, Shaddick, Payne, Eckersley, Schnellmann, Duquesne, Hegarty (B.T.H. Rugby), Mealyer (Birchfield), Chris Vose, and Pepper (N. Staffs), in the order stated. Some half-dozen men thus early on had given up the ghost.
Next time the men were checked, Shaddick was flattering by heading Guillemot, who was being attended very closely by Eckersley; Beman, Schnellmann, and Blewitt. These six had singled themselves out for prominence, and they were making the pace pretty warm. Freeman appeared to be having a bad time and, when advised that he was losing valuable ground, indicated that he was enduring the horrors of 'stitch.' With him were Duquesne, Pepper, Hegarty, E. J. Mills, Nicholls, J. C. Dixon (Finchley H.), Vose, and A. R. Mills, running in the order given.
Striking the country, a great change came over the order. Guillemot challenged Shaddick, who failed to respond, but the youngster Eckersley actually took the gage, and a great struggle was witnessed out in the rough. Freeman, having overcome affliction, went out after the two, while Schnellmann dug along at the heels of the Birchfielder.
The result of all the maneuvering was seen when the Iads struck the racecourse again. Eckersley, indeed, had run into the lead, but Guillemot just now was moving with confidence and precise pace, and he had assumed the lead before the plough again was tackled. Eckersley, Freeman and Schnellmann being in immediate pursuit. Sixty yards away was Shaddick, who led Beman by thirty yards, Cottrell, Blewiit, Duquesne, and Payne being another sixty yards further behind.
Duquesne strained the muscles of his right calf on this circuit, and gave up further pursuit. He walked across to the grand stand a greatly disappointed young man, and received warm condolences.
Meanwhile, Freeman, after a rousing race with Guillemot, honours alternating frequently, got his nose in front and passed down the straight just leading the French champion. Eckersley being pegged back quite a 100 hundred yards at this stage. Schnellmann was tailed by another 80 yards, while there was a big wait before Beman, Cottrell, Thomas, Blewitt, Shaddick, Payne, A. R. Mills, Bulleyment, and F. G. Ward processed past. By the way, it was Blewitt's turn hereabouts to suffer a bad time.
The effects of the dour struggle were manifest now on most of the leaders and certainly on the field generally, the leaders being almost within striking distance of the tail end of the runners when the last lap was entered upon.
Guillemot now began to call upon some of the reserves which had appeared to be in him, and he took to the country for the last time fifty yards ahead of Freeman and Eckersley. These three were out on their own, Schnellmann being 200 yards in the rear and in turn leading Thomas by 60 yards. At other intervals passed Blewitt, Shaddick, Beman, Cottrell, Bulleyment, Ward, Payne, and E. J. Mills.
Guillemot had been given some good advice, and in this concluding lap he indicated something of its nature. Evidently this was to get about his business, for he shook off his rivals completely in the country and entered the finishing straight with a winning lead. He was content to stick to this advantage, and, without seeking to detract in any way from the merit of his rivals, I must say he impressed me as having run to a carefully thought-out plan and having won just as he wished to do.