Gabrielle De Chassart Shines in Chinhoyi

Teams from eleven high schools ran distances ranging from 4.2 km to 7.2 km in the blazing sun today as Lomagundi hosted their annual cross-country meet. Peterhouse Girls dominated the points chart, with Hellenic Academy finishing second and hosts Lomagundi third. Arundel came third in both middles and seniors, but did not have enough juniors complete and so were disqualified. On the boys’ side neighboring Chinhoyi High won the team competition, followed by favorites Peterhouse in second, Prince Edward in third and St George’s in fourth.

Despite a relatively high number of the over 400 runners not completing the grueling course, there were some standout performances in Chinhoyi on Friday. By far, the athlete of the day was Hellenic Form 4 student Gabrielle de Chassart, who clocked the fastest girls’ time of the meet, finishing the middle girls’ 4.2 km race in 16:56 Her time broke the meet record of 17:09 held by Alexandra Wood from 2012. De Chassart’s junior girls record from 2013 of 17:10 still stands. No surprise that Alex Wood repeated her Watershed performance by finishing the Girls’ Open race far ahead of the rest of the field of contenders with Chisipite’s tri-athlete Karishma Patel coming in second. Gateway’s T. Mawoyo also repeated her Watershed performance to win the junior girls’ race.

Gabreille De Chassart running at Lomagundi College
Gabrielle De Chassart set a new course record of 16 minutes 56 seconds

On the boys’ side, no records were broken. The Open age group boys’ race was won in first and second by two athletes new to the cross country scene, both from Prince Edward School. Favorite Gideon Benade of Peterhouse, whose middle boys record from last year still stands, finished third. Olympic triathlete Drew Williams of St John’s finished the race in sixth place, as he starts to take up cross-country more seriously along his triathlon training.

Next Friday the cross-country teams will meet at Arundel for their third and last event of the season. A question facing the school sporting world in Zimbabwe is with so much long distance running talent, why do we cut short the season to just one month at the start of the year? What if small school-based cross-country teams of the most committed and talented runners continued to train year round and meets continued in second and third terms on a less frequent basis?

Cross country is one of the least expensive sports and yet has a tremendous potential to be a vehicle for sports scholarships and international competition opportunities for young Zimbabwean student athletes. How do we groom our next marathoners or Olympic long distance track athletes if we curtail the season to the first month of the school calendar? Perhaps with a different vision, Zimbabwe could be poised to follow East African models and develop our middle and long distance running talent to reach its true potential.