Ernest Harper, of Hallamshire Harriers, is a sound long-distance runner. He won the National Cross- Country Championship on Saturday at Beaconsfield by sheer ability, a considerable amount of judgment, and a display of determination from the start to finish that commanded the highest admiration.
At the close of the race I spoke to W. G. and A. B. George, the renowned brothers with experience and knowledge. I asked what they thought about Harper's performance after all his Marathon training and racing. They just beamed and said 'what a lot of good it had done him.' I agree.
A better course or a more delightful afternoon could not be imagined. The conditions for the race were almost ideal. The number of spectators was well above the average of the successful gatherings of all time. The race seemed to me to have attracted all the available old-timers and useful assembly of enthusiasts, who were highly delighted and will henceforth be supporters.
At the outset there were many runners of prominence whose chances were fancied by their home divisional supporters. The consensus of opinion, however, seemed to incline towards W. Beavers, of York. I shared that view.
What happens in the first quarter-mile is generally indicative of the intentions of the men with great hopes. Well, Beavers, Winfield, Harper, Webster, and Kay, of Tiverton, a newcomer, were in the lead. They went out into the undulating parkland - on the whole fast going - and at the end of 2½ miles the order of running had not materially changed.
The next lap was a longer one (3¾ miles), and at the six miles mark Harper had a useful lead of 50 yards from Webster and Winfield, with Kay and Oddie well up and Cotterell lying in a good position. F. Light was in close attendance.
At this juncture Beavers was in trouble. The race tragedy had commenced. As Beavers passed me he wore a worried look, and glancing quickly in his direction I saw him fall flat on the ground. He had finished. He said he had muscle trouble in the right leg and could not proceed. A potential international had departed.
All eyes, all thoughts were centred on Harper. Could he hold the lead and keep up his steady deadly pace? He did. Not only did he hold his place, but he improved his position. His rhythmical action, steady poise and apparent disregard for those behind him was something to admire.
When the runners came into view for the last quarter mile Harper was easily alone. Striding beautifully he entered the home straight 150 yards in front of Kay. Then came Cotterell, fresh enough, but lacking the essential speed. Afterwards came Webster looking weary, and then Light and Winfield, both apparently full of running but not able to increase their pace. Harper, the consistent steady pacemaker, had done his deadly work. He had destroyed all the form of his chief opponents by his studied effort. The race was a delight to witness, I travelled back with high Church dignitary who had seen his first cross-country race, and was the most enthusiastic person in the company of a dozen cross-country stalwarts.
The atmosphere was warm and no doubt affected many contestants who retired early because they could not stand the heat.
All the time one was not unmindful of the team contest, really the serious item. At no period was it evident which club had the advantage. The individual runners were mostly going well and strong and the Birchfield and Hallamshire clubs were toiling as they have never had to before.
The flu epidemic had told its story too well, and Hallamshire were without two strong representatives, Leigh and Powell.