IF EVER the age old adage ‘it’s not the winning it’s the taking part that matters’ were to be applied, then the prestigious New Year Sprint event – now held at Musselburgh Racecourse – would surely be a prime candidate.
The oldest, and most lucrative, professional sprint event in the world held it’s 144th running on Tuesday, and despite not gaining any of the top three places, Borders runners were just delighted to be involved.
None more so than the Hawick trio whose ages span three decades and who are all at differing stages of their athletics careers, but who all share the same enthusiasm for this event.
David Rae, 39, Leigh Marshall, 24, and Dylan Ali, 17, were all competing for Rae’s Hawick- based school and all made it to Tuesday’s cross ties (semi-finals) after making it through the heat stages, which were held the previous day along with a full card of senior and junior events.
Rae (8.75m), competing in his third New Year Sprint final, and 2008 winner Marshall (5.75m) progressed to the showpiece finale, with first-timer Ali (9m) losing out in his cross tie to eventual runner-up Kieran Reilly (8.75m) of Edinburgh AC.
Ultimately the 2013 event was won by Edinburgh AC’s Ben Robbins (7.5m). The 16-year-old George Watson’s College rugby winger, stormed to a decisive victory in the Sprint final held during the traditional National Hunt Meeting which attracted a huge attendance and was broadcast live on Channel 4.
In doing so, he also dashed the hopes of Gemma Nicol (16.5m) from Dunfermline AC who was endeavouring to become the first female winner of the historic professional handicap.
After the morning cross-ties the betting was finely balanced between the two who had dominated the heats on Monday.
But Robbins was the 4-6 favourite by the time he swooped to take the Eric Liddell memorial gold medal and £4,000 first prize, with Nicol, a six-times finalist and a former runner-up, on offer at even money.
A 400m specialist with a best time of 49.11 seconds, Robbins covered the 110m on the gradually drying grass into a fresh, though unmeasured, wind in 12.14 seconds. Reilly came in as a surprise 5-1 runner-up in 12.29 with Nicol (16.5m) third in 12.32. Rae finished 6th in 12.56, with Marshall close behind in 12.59.
Speaking after the event Rae told TheSouthern: “It was a quality final. Every athlete in that race was a decent runner and thoroughly deserved to be there. I’m delighted for the school, the boys have been fantastic, and from a personal point of view, well, I didn’t think I would be making finals at my age, so I’m pleased just to have been in it.
“Of course, we all wanted to win. We want to win every time we race, but it was also a stepping stone from all our winter work to the meetings over the summer.
“Leigh has had injury problems, so it was important that he got back racing and the improvement he has made over the last few months will stand him in good stead over the summer.
“Dylan is just 17 years of age and has been doing superbly. Even to get into the cross ties here is a great achievement and his time will definitely come.
“I have to mention Liam Ali and Leigh Notman who are also part of our squad. You need a good squad as everyone helps one another. We have six of the best with Steven Riddell looking after us and keeping everyone in great shape, so it’s very much a team effort.
“We are also indebted to Hawick and Wilton Cricket Club for letting us train on their ground. We don’t have any facilities in Hawick and without their help we wouldn’t be able to train.
This week’s efforts have been the culmination of five months hard graft for the Rae school and Marshall believes that they are all exactly where they want to be at this moment in time.
He told us: “The results and times over the last two days have shown that we are going in the right direction.
“Dylan, myself and the rest of the school would like to thank David for all the hard work he puts in with us and we hope we can reward him with a successful summer.”
Also representing the Borders in Tuesday’s cross ties were Colin Bruce (Selkirk) 12.15m; Mathew Fleming (Kelso) 14.5m; David McKay (Kelso) 15.5m; Iskan Barskanmay (Jed-Forest AC) 5.75m and Craig Gillan (TLJT) 14.5m.
Monday’s supporting card saw athletes of all ages tasting success at the East Lothian venue.
144th New Year Sprint Results
New Year Sprint: 1, Ben Robbins (Edinburgh) 7.5m; 2, Kieran Reilly (Edinburgh) 8.75m; 3, Gemma Nicol (Dunfermline) 16.5m. Time: 12.14 seconds.
90 Metres Open: 1, Jessie Concannon (Dunfermline) 20.5m; 2, Jordan Charters (Lasswade) 9.5m; 3, Kieran Reilly (Edinburgh) 8.25m. Time: 9.84 seconds.
90 Metres Veterans: 1, Cameron Smith (Tullibody) 7.25m; 2, Iain Heard (Jedburgh) 19.5m; 3, Colin Bruce (Selkirk) 12.25m. Time: 10.54 seconds.
110 Metres Short Limit Invitational: 1, Allan Hamilton (Edinburgh) 4m; 2, Craig Gillan (TLJT) 7.75m; 3, Kieran Kivlin (Edinburgh) 4.5m. Time: 12.56 seconds.
4 Furlong (approx 880 metres) Open: 1, Ross Matheson (Lasswade) 22.5m; 2, Craig Robertson (Pitreavie) 37.5m; 3, Craig Bell (Forfar) 127.5m. Time: 2 minutes 2.4 seconds.
90 Metres Youths: 1, Josh Dougall (TLJT) 24m; 2, Josh Abbott (Kelso & Gala Harriers) 22.5m; 3, Sarah Malone (Corstorphine) 18.5m. Time: 10.36 seconds.
60 Metres Youths (Under 13): 1, Josh Abbot (Kelso & Gala Harriers) 14.5m; 2, Josh Dougall (TLJT) 15m; 3, Phillippa Robertson (TLJT) 12.5m. Time: 7.18 seconds.
60 Metres Youths (Under 16): 1, William Hutchison (Lasswade) 4.5m; 2, Freddie Rooke (Gala Harriers) 3.5m; 3, Sarah Mallone Corstorphine 11m. Time: 7.40 seconds.
4 Furlong (approx 880 metres) Youths: 1, Dominic O’Hare (Lasswade) 90m; 2, Jason McIntosh (Kelso) 100m; 3, Dylan Thomson (Pitreavie) 180m. Time: 2 minutes 8.6 seconds.