News & Updates

29 July 2023 • Cross Country

Arlidge and Avery take top honours at New Zealand Cross

Picture caption – Anneke Arlidge claims her maiden national senior cross country title in a thrilling race. Credit (Alisha Lovrich)

At a sun-bathed Spa Thermal Park in Taupo, Anneke Arlidge shaded a spellbinding senior women’s race and pre-event favourite Cameron Avery captured the senior men’s crown on a memorable day one of action at the 2023 New Zealand Cross Country and Relay Championships.

In an epic 10km senior women’s race, Arlidge, who claimed a trio of track medals at the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in March, unleashed a devastating final kilometre or so to overhaul long-time leader Sarah Drought and mount the top of the podium.

For much of the race, Drought, the top Kiwi finisher in the senior women’s race at the World Cross Country Championships in February, appeared destined for gold. 

Running in a composed and fluid manner the 35-year-old mother-of-two opened up a near 100m lead from the pursuing Katrina Andrew and Arlidge with many assuming victory a near certainty.

However, on an unforgiving course, Drought’s race quickly unravelled in the final kilometre. With her stride starting to shorten she abruptly slowed up the final Playground Hill climb, and with the Wellington athlete visibly struggling Arlidge sensed her opportunity and pounced.

The national steeplechase champion hit the front in the final half a kilometre, although the gold medal was no formality as she faced increasing pressure from behind.

Annika Pfitzinger was finishing with a dazzling late charge to emerge into the medal picture having been sixth leading into the final 3km.

Arlidge, however, would not be denied and the Aucklander took gold in 37:23 – five second clear of the pursuing Pfitzinger, who matched her silver medal-winning display from ten years ago in this event.  

Drought bravely dragged her body across the line to snatch a richly-deserved bronze in 37:33 with Caitlin McQuilkin-Bell (Auckland) crossing the line in fourth a further six second adrift. Lisa Cross, the defending champion, who had earlier claimed gold in the 6km 40-44 age group masters race, produced a herculean effort to finish fifth (37:43) competing with a degenerative knee.

Andrew, who sat second for much of the final 3km lap faded to sixth, with 2021 champion Kerry White (Waikato BoP) in seventh.

A stunned Arlidge said: “It took until the last 800m (to believe I could win the race. Most of the race I was just trying to hold on

“I felt really good for the first 4km but the 3km loops are a bit hillier, so I kind of died in the middle portion but I just hung on to Katrina (Andrew) which was lucky. I then had a little bit more at the end.

“I got some feedback from the supporters that Sarah was starting to struggle up the hill. But even after I passed her I still knew I had some of the girls behind me, so I knew I had a bit of a sprint on. I’ve never won a national cross country before – it is very special.”

In contrast to the high drama of an unforgettable senior women’s race, the senior men’s race served up a more orthodox cross country race as Avery upgraded on the silver medal he snared here at the 2022 edition of the New Zealand Cross Country Championships.

Taking control of the race around 4km from early leader Michael Voss, the 26-year-old athlete claimed a comfortable victory in a time of 31:01 by an 18-second margin from his training partner and fellow Canterbury athlete David Lee. For Lee, who quit the sport between the ages of 16 and 22, it was rich reward for the 27-year-old who hails from Auckland but who is currently thriving in the buoyant Christchurch endurance scene.

Voss (Waikato BoP), the New Zealand half marathon champion, produced a typically whole-hearted effort to secure bronze in 31.37. Russell Green of Canterbury claimed fourth in 37:45 with William Little rounding out the top five.

An elated Avery said: “It was great, lovely crowd, lovely course and lovely day for it. No cross country race is comfortable, but I did feel good going into the day and I knew if I had enough of a lead on the last lap, it is a hard course to pull back on. So I shut it down a bit just to make sure I didn’t roll an ankle or anything.”

On the success of the Canterbury team in this race (Canterbury claimed six of the top nine finishers) he added: “It is the environment we’ve created down there. It is not just the training squad, but the wider training squad as well and a mixture of the hills (we train on) and the camaraderie we’ve created.”

Catherine Lund, who placed an outstanding 27th in the U20 women’s race at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, backed up that showing to execute a commanding victory in the women’s U20 race at Spa Thermal Park.

The 17-year-old seized control of the race on the first of two 3km laps and ran away from a high-class field to win in 21:54 to add to the national U18 cross country crown she claimed on this course 12 months ago.

Some 48 seconds further back Boh Ritchie (Waikato BoP), the 2022 champion, today had to settle for silver with Otago nabbing a second medal as Zara Geddes took bronze in 22:50.

Lund, who is jointly coached by Alan Muir and New Zealand women’s mile champion Rebekah Greene, said: “I’m pretty happy with how I ran. The race started pretty slow and I didn’t want to leave it to a sprint finish, so I took it out.”

A lover of cross country – a passion forged on the hills of the Otago Peninsula at Dunedin – she hopes to return for another crack at the U20 race at the World Cross Country Championships in Croatia next February.

Christian de Vaal (Auckland) became the first man since Matt Baxter a decade ago to secure back-to-back men’s national U20 cross country titles with a dominant display at Spa Thermal Park.

De Vaal repelled a strong challenge from Matt Hill (Waikato BoP) during the first half of the race before breaking free to canter to a 42-second victory in a time of 25:17 in the 8km test.

Jamie Mora, a training partner to De Vaal, ran a well-judged race to finish strongly and bank the silver medal with Matt Hill rewarded for his aggressive approach, by taking bronze in 26:22.

De Vaal, who is all set to take up a scholarship to compete for the University of Wisconsin in a couple of weeks, said: “I’m really happy with today. The goal coming in was to win and I think it worked out really well.”

“Those first 3km were pretty tough, I guess the body was still warming up to the pace and I was just trying to keep pushing. Once I had that gap I would have the confidence to win.”

De Vaal, who DNF’d in the men’s U20 race at the World Cross Country Championships through heat exhaustion in February, said: “Today was definitely redemption and if I get selected for the (2024) World Cross Country Championships I can make amends.”

The U18 men served up an captivating 6km race with Angus Sevier producing a tactical masterclass to take the gold medal in a wildly fluctuating race.

The 2023 U18 800m bronze medallist did not panic as his fellow Cantabrian Daniel Prescott, Elliott Pugh and Caleb Wagener all took their turn at the front.

But just before Playground Hill on the final lap, Sevier accelerated past Wagener to clinch an exhilarating four-second win in 19.01.

In a tight tussle for silver Prescott gained a second wind to edge Wagener (Auckland) who grabbed bronze.

Kate Mchardy produced a fabulous demonstration of cross country running to claim a comprehensive victory in the women’s U18 race. The Wellington teenager took control of the race early and did not relinquish her advantage to strike gold in 18:31

Some 19 seconds further back Siena Mackley (Southland) was rewarded for the long journey north to take silver with national U18 1500m and 3000m bronze medallist Kate Currie (Canterbury) nabbing bronze in 19:02.

Auckland swept the podium in a highly competitive girls U16 race as Lisa Hellyer claimed victory ahead Imogen Barlow.

Hellyer, (Auckland City Athletics) demonstrated her cross country ability by completing the 4km distance in 14:24 -to edge Barlow, the national U16 800m/1500m and 3000m champion of Pakuranga AC, by a four-second margin. Hellyer’s club-mate Scarlett Robb secured bronze in 14:39. 

Ben Oxford (Pakuranga) the junior boys secondary schools champion Ben Oxford (Pakuranga) claimed a ten-second win in the 4km U16 boys events from Sam Ruthe in a time of 12:51.

Ruthe, the son of Ben Ruthe, the 2008 senior men’s national cross country champion who later in the day would win the masters 40-44 age division here in Taupo, showed the rich family running heritage is alive and kicking. Jake Lomas (Hamilton City Hawks) rounded out the podium with bronze, clocking 13:13 over the 4km distance.

The fast-finishing Zoe Hilton edged a tight under-14 girls race. The Trentham United athlete clocked 11:37 around the 3km route to claim a one-second win from silver medallist Leah Marais (Pakuranga).

Jacob Williams of Hutt Valley Harriers was a convincing winner of the boys’ U14 race, securing gold by a 14-second margin in 10:10. 

The Para event was taken out by Taranaki’s Sasha Al Dazhani in 16:14.

Oliver O’Sullivan (Otago) successfully retained his national masters 35-39 crown – covering the 8km inclines and declines in a time of 26:48.

In highly-competitive masters men’s 45-49 age group Steve Rees-Jones (Waikao BoP) dethroned defending champion Simon Mace (Auckland) by a three-second margin – stopping the clock in 27:07.

The raider from the north Ian Calder (Athletics Whangarei) took out the men’s 6km 65-69 division in 25:06 and Dennis Litt (Waikato BoP) impressively retained the men’s masters 70-74 race in a very handy 26:06.

Sarah Gardner (Waikato BoP) nailed the women’s 35-39 masters race in a time of 23:52. The indefatigable Sally Gibbs (Manawatu Whanganui) posted a slick 24:26 over the 6km distance to nab the women’s masters title in the 60-64 age bracket.  

Following the individual race today the relay events start at 9am on Sunday.

***For Individual results go here

***For the relay results go here

***For the Sunday livestream go here