Weather conditions impact on the schools’ competitions at Sunday’s McCain Cardiff Cross Challenge


The heavy snowfall last Friday had a major impact on the invitation schools’ competition at Sunday’s Cardiff Cross Challenge.  While event organiser Graham Finlayson’s major concern was ensuring the underfoot conditions were safe for competitors, the major dilemma for schools’ team organisers was whether it was sensible to ask pupils and team managers to travel to Cardiff, either by team coach or with parents.


Given the varying difficulties at local level, it was not a complete surprise that both Gloucestershire and South East Wales Schools’ organisers opted not to compete, though individual pupils were allowed to compete.  With Afan Nedd Tawe Schools having opted not to send teams this year for financial reasons, the absence of three squads saw the number of secondary pupils finishing in the eight races from year 7 to senior tumble from 538 in 2012 to 265 this year.


On the day, conditions were very cold and the soft, slushy surface cut up badly in places to give a sea of mud in places – a real cross-country test but one not often experienced these days.


In the opening race, for Middle/Inter Girls in years 10 & 11, identifying the first three in the schools’ competition was made unexpectedly easy, because the placings were taken by three members of the Welsh under 17 team, competing in the Celtic Cross International.  A determined run from Olivia Gwynn (Afan Nedd Tawe), wearing number 1, saw her ease past long-time third placer Georgia Garner (Colwyn Bay) to claim the schools’ first place.  Olivia had won the junior girls’ section at this event in 2011.  Her Afan Nedd Tawe team-mate, Lara Philippart, wearing 2, finished fifth to claim schools’ second spot while Alex Cawthra (Powys), wearing three, held off the challenge from Cari Harries (Dyfed) and Anna Lawson (Cardiff & the Vale), to take the schools’ bronze medal.


Jac Hopkins (Afan Nedd Tawe) was the clear favourite in all three competitions within the second race – the Celtic under 17 international, the McCain Challenge under 17 and the schools’ Middle/Inter Boys.  Having won the Cross Challenge races at Bristol and Liverpool earlier in the season, it was no surprise that the Bishopston year 11 stamped his authority on this race, finishing twenty seconds clear of the field, to claim a trio of wins on the day.  Behind him, the experienced Christian Lovatt (Dyfed) continued the good form he showed before Christmas to finish third in the race and second in the schools’ competition while perhaps the most surprised, and delighted, athlete was Ciaran Lewis (Cardiff & the Vale).  The year 11, like Jac competing for the Wales under 17 team, found his fifteenth finishing position good enough to take third place in the schools’ competition.


Surprisingly, there were slightly more competitors in the under 20 women’s race than in the equivalent men’s race – 39 to 36 – but the numbers taking part in the two schools’ senior sections were disappointing.


In a race dominated by international u20 athletes from England, Scotland and Wales, there was a Gloucestershire Schools victory in the schools’ senior section.  Lillie Bellamy was the schools’ winner with Rebecca Evans (Glamorgan Valleys) taking second spot and Lauren Bell finishing third for Dyfed.


Matthew Edwards (Cardiff & the Vale) had won the senior boys’ race at this event in 2012 but he would be the first to admit that he has not been in the same form recently and, although he started the race, sadly he failed to finish.  That left the way open for his training partner, Mike Ward (Cardiff & the Vale), which Mike duly took improving from third last year to take top spot this time.  Silver and bronze medals went to Lloyd Heckler (Dyfed) and Tom George (Gloucestershire).


Following that quartet of races, there was a lull in the secondary schools’ competition as the two senior races – for women & men – were held, followed by the two races for primary pupils.  After that, races 9 to 12, which included the schools year 7 and junior competitions, followed at ten minute intervals.


Lucy Dennis (Glamorgan Valleys) was the outstanding Welsh under 13 in the significant pre-Christmas races, winning three titles at her first attempt – the South Wales Regional Schools under13, the Welsh Schools under 14 and the Welsh Inter Regional under 13 championships.  Here, on a course now showing considerable ‘wear’, the Porthcawl year 7 finished a very encouraging third in the race to take the schools’ title.  In a repeat of the South Wales regional schools results, Jessica Wadey (Cardiff & the Vale) claimed schools’ silver while Gloucestershire gained a third medal through Abigail Robson.


Luke Davies (Powys) made the long journey south from Llandrindod worthwhile by finishing sixth in the under 13 boys’ race – and claiming the gold medal in the schools’ year 7 race – the first Powys boy to win this section.  Behind him, Dyfed year 7 boys – Rhys James, Ben Thomas and Owain Nicholas – claimed the next three places in the schools’ competition.


Cari Hughes (Eryri) would have started the u15 girls’ race as favourite for the schools’ junior section but the year 7 winner from 2011 did not come south from Anglesey for the event.  Second favourite was Jessica Bradley but the Dyfed pupil had a rare off day, finishing down the field.  With those two major threats not making an impact, it was year 9 Seren Allin (Cardiff & the Vale), who grasped the opportunity, finishing third in the race and taking the schools’ gold medal.  For local supporters, there was a wonderful surprise in second spot as year 9 Gwenno Waddington made light of the difficult conditions to take a second medal for Cardiff & the Vale while a new name, Anna Garvey (Dyfed), just got the better of year 8 Holli Jehu (Glamorgan Valleys) to take the third place.


Year 10 Josh Kerr (Edinburgh), first home in the 2012 SIAB Schools’ junior boys’ international at Strathallan, was a comfortable winner of the last race, the under 15 boys.  In Wales, year 9 Jake Heyward (Cardiff & the Vale) was the stand-out under 15 boy before Christmas and he added to his list of credits here.  A storming finish saw him run down a number of his older rivals to take second place in the race, and claim a first schools’ win at this event.  Over 90 seconds later, there was a very close contest between Matthew Williams (Dyfed), an inspired Cole Swannack (Glamorgan Valleys), Joseph Speak (Gloucestershire) and Owen Thomas (Glamorgan Valleys) for the last two schools’ medals – with Matthew and Cole taking the two awards.


The team awards were shared between Cardiff & the Vale, Dyfed and Glamorgan valleys.  The hosts claimed five victories - in both middle/inter sections, senior and junior boys and year 7 girls – while Dyfed were top dogs in the year 7 boys’ section and the junior and senior girls’ sections.  Glamorgan Valleys had second place medals in the senior and year 7 girls’ competitions.


Cardiff & the Vale of Glamorgan Schools association would like to express its grateful thanks to:

  • Event organiser Graham Finlayson and his assistant, Alex Donald, for ensuring that the event was held with safe underfoot conditions.
  • All the event officials
  • The pupils who came to compete – and the parents who brought them.  Many of you will possibly not have competed in such tough conditions before – so well done to the competitors
  • The staff who came to organise teams, and the event – Dai Cambourne (Glamorgan Valleys), Jim Whelan (South East Wales), and Melissa Hunter, Kay Chapman, Kath Elias, Dai Williams, and Rob Glaves (all Cardiff & the Vale of Glamorgan)
  • Malcolm Healey and his team, for producing the results
  • John Penny, the Welsh Athletics President, for making the schools’ presentations



The schools’ competitions within the Cardiff Cross Challenge are intended to help competing teams as they prepare for their national schools cross country championships later in the season.


We wish pupils from the Welsh Schools districts ‘Good Luck’ at the National Schools’ championships at Brecon on Saturday, February 23rd and ‘Good Fortune’ to pupils from Gloucestershire Schools at the South West Schools and the English Schools championships.


The results of the eight schools’ competitions are available as a download from this web page.  The individual positions in the schools’ races are on the right hand side of the results.