ERITREAN Olympic Games steeplechaser Weynay Ghebresilasie set a new course record as he helped his adopted club, Sunderland Harriers, finish fifth in the highly competitive Durham City Harriers’ Cathedral Cross Country Relays, writes Frank Johnson.

The 18-year-old former soldier, who has settled on Wearside while his asylum application is decided, clocked 7 mins 50 secs over the two-lap 3K course despite being flagged down and told by his new coach, former marathon international Glenn Forster, to ease off after tearing away on the first circuit, completed in an ultra-rapid 3 mins 47 secs.

An astonished Forster said: “I have never seen anybody start a cross country race as fast as that – he was sprinting like a 400 metre runner!”

Ghebreselasie adjusted his pace on the second lap, tiring noticeably as he was passed by Gateshead’s new Great Britain junior international Calum Johnson, but he still went round in 4 mins 3 secs to finish 22 seconds behind defending champions Morpeth Harriers, who retained their senior men’s title.

The Northumbrian club fielded the victorious trio from last year – Matt Nicholson, Ross Floyd and Lewis Timmins – and they held off a late challenge by host club Durham City to win by four seconds. Durham’s first-leg runner, Dan Garbutt, ran the second fastest time, 7 mins 52 secs.

Morpeth underlined their strength-in-depth by winning the bronze medals with their B team, which included new recruit Richard Morrell, son of former Great Britain middle-distance star Tony Morrell. Only 22 seconds separated the first five teams in one of the most hotly contested senior men’s events at the riverside for years.

World Championships marathon international Alyson Dixon, now concentrating on shorter races over the winter months, made a rare cross country outing, recording the fastest time in the women’s race as she led her new club to a best-ever third placing. Durham City’s European Cross Country Championships international Rosie Smith was only one second slower as she helped the host club to a comfortable 33 seconds victory over Birtley.

North Shields Polytechnic led all the way in the veteran men’s over-35 section, with anchorman Ian Twaddle recording the fastest time of 8 mins 43 secs to help the Tynesiders win the North-East Veterans’ championship.

Morpeth took second place, 22 seconds ahead of Tyne Bridge.