The first, of course, is that this year saw the first staging of this historic race at the beautiful Attingham Park, the third-most-visited National Trust property in the UK, located just five miles outside the town.
The second reason it will be remembered is for the treacherous conditions that greeted the runners on their arrival at the course, as wind speeds reached 50mph and the rain lashed down. Runners huddled under the colonnade, clung to their coats, battled with umbrellas, and made their preparations as best they could. Thankfully the temperature was surprisingly warm given the storm, but needless to say, these weren’t quite the scenes we had imagined when the decision was made to move from Meole Brace!
When the weather started to settle down after one o’clock, the decision was made to bring the beginning of the race forward, and by the time the first wave set off at about 1.40pm, conditions had improved considerably. The long starting straight, going up the bank and across the front of the mansion house, made for a spectacular beginning to this new chapter in the Tucks story, as the School’s top runners jostled for position before the first turn northwards into more open ground.
One of the advantages of the new course over the old is that overtaking is much easier, without the bottlenecks and narrow passages of the previous route. Many of the favourites for the top ten positions had not managed to secure leading places as the pack passed through the gate after 200m. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top positions were initially dominated by footballers, rowers and rugby players, who were able to use their power and pace to get ahead of the pack. However, by the end of the first third of this 5km race, it seems that most of the top Hunt runners had managed to establish themselves in strong positions, coming through the field well, in some cases from quite far back.
Having set off the next three waves at four-minute intervals, and enjoying the spectacle of several hundred pupils (and a good number of their teachers) charge off into the wind, we were able to see the leading runners at a hairpin round a tree a couple of hundred metres away, before they turned back southwards for the last mile of the race. At this point, Sam Western (S) had managed to develop a convincing lead of about 30 metres ahead of the battle for second, closely fought between Charlie Ockleston (O) and last year’s winner Harry Remnant (Ch), with Charlie – this year’s Huntsman – at this point enjoying a slight advantage, but under considerable pressure.
Not much further back, Tom Jackson (R) and Oscar Hamilton-Russell (R) contested fourth place, ahead of Orlando Williams (Rt). Just a few second behind was the leading girl, Francesca Harris, looking very strong and well clear of her nearest challenger.
As the runners entered the final straight, Sam had managed to extend his lead slightly, and took a well-deserved victory. His form has been terrific recently, and he has had his sights set on this win for some time. As favourite, he faced quite a bit of pressure going into the race, which he handled admirably.
Harry had managed to squeeze ahead of Charlie for 2nd place, while 4th position went to Fifth Former Oscar Hamilton-Russell, showing what a prospect he is over the next two or three seasons to come.
Tom Jackson took 5th, while Sam Watts (Ch) had come through the field extremely strongly in the last mile or so to claim 6th, ahead of Orlando. Not far behind him, Harrison Cutler (R) placed 8th, taking the gold medal for first junior boy, just ahead of Third Former Ben Weston (R) in 9th, while Orlando’s older brother (and rugby player) Freddy Williams (Rt) placed 10th, the highest-placing non-Hunt runner. Jonny Price (I) placed third junior boy, finishing 20th overall.
In the girls’ race, Francesca had managed to extend her lead over the final mile and placed 18th overall, the highest a girl has ever placed in this race. This is testament to her standing as one of the country’s best young talents, having placed just outside the top ten in her age group at the English Schools Championships back in March.
A little further behind, Lillian Wilcox (EDH) placed 2nd girl (and 63rd overall), with Alessandra Ardissino (M) taking 3rd, about 30 seconds back (placing 73rd overall).
Anna Cowan and Sophia Dixon (both of MSH) took positions 4th and 5th respectively. Among the junior girls, Fourth Former Olivia Elliott (EDH) took the gold medal, placing 145th overall and 6th girl, ahead of Nell Ware (MSH) – 179th overall, 8th girl – and Isabel Morris (MSH) – 181st and 9th girl.
In a keenly fought House competition, Emma Darwin managed to take the Olivia Papaioannou Cup, with an impressive team score of 118 points, just ahead of Mary Sidney (135) in 2nd, and The Grove (145) in 3rd. Among the boys, Rigg’s claimed victory with an extremely dominant display, scoring just 89 points among their top eight runners. Indeed, all eight managed to finish in the top 22 positions, which is just about unheard of! With four of their top ten runners coming from the lower years, it seems their dominance in House cross-country is set to continue for many years.
I was delighted to see that, despite the very challenging conditions, we had more finishers in this year’s Tucks than we have managed for a very long time, and the spirit on display from all runners was tremendous. They were a real credit to their Houses and the School, and they should feel immensely proud of their achievements in completing the course. Let’s hope that next year brings us some sunshine!
Teacher in Charge of The Hunt
Photos by Dr Paul Pattenden
Please click on the arrow below to view a short video that captures some of the atmosphere of the day, plus highlights of the Awards Ceremony that took place later during School Assembly.