It was a glorious Wednesday afternoon in the middle of February - the hottest winter day on record - which was no surprise to many of Imperial’s cross country runners who knew this competition had been hotting up for some time.
The final fixture in the London Universities and Colleges Cross Country League was to take place just a (7km) stone’s throw from Beit Quad – in the fields behind the infamous HMP Wormwood Scrubs.
Prior to the race, Imperial were leading the women’s league, with the B team also clinging to the podium in third.
The men’s team were looking fairly comfortable in third place in the men’s league, but there was still everything to play for going into this final event.
Most importantly of all, Imperial were sitting atop the mixed league – a new competition for this year that combines the scores of the women’s and men’s team placings in races to crown the ultimate overall cross country squad.
Starting the day just 2 points clear of UCL meant that everyone had to put in a big race to ensure the first name engraved on the flashy new silverware would be the ancient runes of I-M-P-E-R-I-A-L.
After sunbathing as a warm-up and a rousing team talk, the squad took their place on the start line alongside other student runners from across London and beyond.
Before they knew it they were off, flying down the back straight of the Scrubs like escaped prisoners, before the faux-convicts took a sharp turn to take them up towards some thick foliage.
Amogst the navy and red vests were a number of candidates for overall individual medals.
In the men’s race Niki Faulkner was hoping to jump up to the podium, having raced three of four previous races and with everyone’s top four races to score he was a strong favourite for the silver medal overall. Dubious pre-race calculations suggested a simple eleventh place finish would guarantee the silver.
In the simultaneous yet shorter women’s race, Imperial star athletes Kate Olding and Georgia Curry were tied for gold going into the race. With third place in the league well out of the running, this final race was a straight shootout for the gold. Both athletes went into the race carrying minor injuries but were determined to do everything to bring home the fabled gold.
With four scoring members for each team it was also important that the women’s squad had sufficient depth to allow the B team to outscore Reading’s A team and secure an unprecedented double podium for the women.
In the men’s race Niki stormed home in third with the A team packing strongly: Oliver Newton came 12th, Joe Pomfret finished 16th, Henry Hart 17th, and Mihaly Ormay 22nd.
In the women’s race, Georgia Curry was pipped to the line by a St Mary’s athlete, with the rest of the top five filled by Imperial’s Alex Mundell in third, Chloe Baker in fourth, and Alix Vermeulen in fifth. The entire B team also finished in the top 20!
All that was left of the day was the prize-giving. First were the individual awards for the top-scoring six athletes across their best four races in the league. Fresher Alix Vermeulen was pleasantly surprised to place fourth, and was just three points behind third. Kate Olding was loudly cheered as she collected her silver medal after succumbing to an unfortunate injury in the final race, but that left the gold medal which went to Georgia Curry who just pipped Kate to the title by 2 points, scoring a ludicrous 597 out of 600 points overall.
Over in the men’s, Niki Faulkner recieved the silver medal, finishing just 2 points behind the winning athlete from St Mary’s with a total of 791 out of 800 points.
In the overall standings, the women’s A teams and B teams scored first and third respectively, with the A team receiving an unnecessarily large shield.
The Men’s took home the bronze medals before the entire squad roared when it was confirmed they had won the inaugural Mike Baggs Trophy for best mixed squad.
The gleaming trophy was embraced by all team members and paraded around the Union later that night at ACC.
Amazingly, it survived the night and only time will tell if ICXCAC will be able to retain the trophy in 2020.