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A ton of top names.

Byline: By Bill McGuirk

Tomorrow's 100th North Eastern Cross-Country Championships at Bishop Auckland College is expected to be celebrated in a big way, (writes Bill McGuirk).

All former senior winners still living have been invited by hosts Wear Valley District Council for a get-together prior to the first event at 11.30 ( and the list is significant to the region's high profile in cross-country competition.

While Olympians Brendan Foster and Steve Cram are set to miss out on the Start Fitness-supported occasion due to television commitments ( the European Cross-Country Championships are being held in the Netherlands ( the likes of nine-times champion Jimmy Alder and the man who bettered that record, Brian Rushworth, have indicated they will be attending.

Former Elswick Harrier Bill Boak, now based in Cumbria, won the title on seven occasions, the first being 55 years ago, and he will be the oldest ex-champion on view.

Among other champions expected to grace the event are John Bell (Gosforth), Bob Patterson (Blaydon), Steve Irvine (Gateshead), Kevin Forster (Saltwell), whose son Kristian carries the family name in tomorrow's race, Don Speight (Morpeth), Graham Smith (Sunderland), Colin Walker (Gateshead) and Dominic Bannister of Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers.

While Irvine is having a nostalgic outing, for Rushworth and Bannister the championship could be a more serious affair, with both expecting to put on an eye-catching display.

Defending champion, Morpeth's Neil Wilkinson, goes for a hat-trick of victories while team-mate Martin Scaife has said he would like to win in the championship centenary year.

Another with an outstanding chance is former Jarrow and Hebburn and Chester-le-Street runner David Wardle.

Now based in London where he competes for the London Irish club, Wardle showed good form in his only race since the Great North Run.

Others who could be chasing a podium place include Gateshead's Chris Parr, Sunderland's Mark Hood, Paul Lowe (North Yorks Moors), Kristian Forster (Dundee University) and Alisdair Tatum of Quakers.

Tomorrow's women's contest should be as equal to the men's with a number of athletes chasing the coveted award.

Last year's champion Bernadette Taylor (Darlington) is unable to defend her title due to a knee injury, which leaves the door open for a new name to be etched on the trophy.

With last year's silver and bronze medallists Claire Simpson (Jarrow and Hebburn) and Marie Stansmore (Middlesbrough) also sidelined, it opens the door to the likes of Chester-le-Street's Alyson Dixon, former Gosforth athlete Sara Maude, now of Charnwood, and world orienteering bronze medallist Heather Monro (Durham City), to win their first-ever North Eastern title.

Athletes who could also figure include many who have just moved up from the junior section, such as Morpeth's Aiveen Fox, last year's North of England junior champion and Rosie Smith (Durham City) a member of the Great Britain World Cross-Country Championship squad.

Racing begins at 11.30 with the under-13 boys race while the senior men's championship at 1.20.
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 9, 2005
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