Mel Batty was allowed to win the National Cross-Country Championship without one serious challenge, yet if opposed by a great deal of experience and cool calculation he can be beaten as both Mike Turner and Tim Johnston have proved.
Runners of experience were there in plenty, but one feels that the cool calculation which is stock-of-trade of the injured and absent Mike Turner was missing.
Batty cannot control the impulse to get away from the fieId at whatever the cost in terms of pace and a runner like this must be given his head. There comes however, the moment of truth, when his pursuers must decide - so far and no further, and then must commence the long pull back.
Turner, one likes to feel, would not have missed this crucial moment, and would initiated the recovery phase, bringing others with him in time. As it was, the minutes went by as gaily as did Batty, until the nature of the course being what it is - he was out of sight of his followers.
It was the New Zealanders who first got restless about the runaway, and anxiously began to gain places, and Johnson, in eighth place did at last rouse himself to go after the lost leader he could not hope to rise higher than second, the position in which he finished. Although in fact he took nearly a minute out of the lead on the last three miles lap. I doubt whether he set eyes on Batty until they met in the finishing per..
Ron Hill now to captain the England team: was disappointing, and one feels that the unexpected absence of Turner upset his plans. He seemed to take his running from Mike Freary, for this club-mate was the leader of the BoIton pair for most of the journey.
Even the forward running of the New Zealanders - who like loose horses were doing very well indeed but who were not in the race - did not drive him to earlier and more positive running.
Who in the North, after watching Hill's remarkable display at Blackpool a few weeks earlier, could accept that Batty would beat him by 36 seconds, and yet that was the situation at Parliament Hill Fields.
All praise to Freary, who finishing 4 seconds behind Hill, gained his place in the England team and sympathy to Ron Barlow of Wallasey, who made a very gallant effort indeed but missed selection for the team by 25 seconds.
Of course it is standard procedure to get away fast with the leaders if one has ideas about finishing near to the front, but perhaps Ron made too much of this and stayed with Batty too long. He paid the penalty of the Initial pace by falling away to 12th place, and this gave him a reserve place for the Ostend race.
However, for consolation he is to run at Brussels with a small team on March 27, but that England vest still eludes him. There is a lesson in experience for him in every big race, and next season should see him well established for sundry trips abroad.