Let loose by the starter’s gun, the adrenaline-charged few hundred sprang out the traps and breached the first short rise before swooping right down the long steep hill. Spectators struggled to keep up as they sprinted across the winding park to chase the snaking course .
In among the early exchanges, the St Mary’s Sufarel brothers, tall and unassuming Alex Teuten and the silver-haired Birmingham starlet Jonny Davies, fresh back from Kenya.
It’s easy to get carried away in the first few kilometres when the atmosphere is so highly-charged. The slow death of so many whose eyes for the prize were too big for their belly remains a painful yet satisfying sight from the sidelines. It’s the survival of the fittest that sees it through to first.
In the end it was Southampton University’s quiet assassin Alex Teuten that gently came to the fore.
Deceptively quick with his lanky low leg lift eating up the sticky turf, the 25 year-old moved clear of the chasing St Mary’s trio heading into the final lap.
Pre-race favourite Davies was down and out, left dragging his heels on the wrong side of the course tape. The quick turnaround from high-altitude in Kenya to Graves Park in Sheffield evidently not to his liking – even if the sharp hill up to the course from the car seemed pretty high up.
With Petros and Paulos leading the way and Ellis Cross within striking distance, a humdinger of a final lap looked promising.
But it didn’t really materialise, much to Teuten’s relief. The 25 year-old’s victory was never in doubt on the final lap of the 10k course and the six-time BUCS XC runner triumphed at a relative canter.
Cross split the Surafels to deny Petros bronze – but it mattered not as St Mary’s grabbed gold (again) ahead of Loughborough and Cambridge in the team standings. Cue excitable chants that wouldn’t have been out of place down the road at Hillsborough.
What a difference a year makes. Last year’s miserable experience at a dreadfully unimaginative, waterlogged and windswept Gloucester course can be consigned to bad memories.
Graves Park provided sweeping views of terraced houses and hilly greenery, an undulating and interesting course capped off by the golden glow of a blue sky and sunny day. And who says the British are obsessed with the weather?
The pre-race favourites in the women’s race bubbled to the fore early too – but the fizz foamed away too soon. The top three was a done deal from the hay bales at the end of the first lap.
Rebecca Murray, focused and expressionless behind the blue and yellow Brunel spots painted across her face, upgraded her silver medal-winning run in Gloucester last year to win with ease in the city of steel.
Jess Judd, striding especially tall alongside the diminutive Emily Hosker-Thornhill, added another medal to the collection – but had to settle for bronze behind the newly crowned Southern champion. Judd did, though, lead the African Violet contingent to a satisfying team gold ahead of old foes, Birmingham. Edinburgh repeated their 2015 bronze.
And while there was hardly the same uncertainty of the first race among the top three, the depth of talent in the bun fight for places in the chasing pack made for riveting viewing. Recent GB international and exciting junior, Victoria Weir, powered away at the start of the second lap to finish fourth.
The men’s short race tidied up proceedings. St Mary’s student, Emile Cairess, headed an intriguing tussle that saw Loughborough and St Mary’s exchange the first seven positions. First, third and fifth saw the blue and white side from south London sweep the men’s board. Bravo!
Words by Chris Rainsford
Image from Hannah Viner