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College pair run into the medals

Two students at a Hampshire college have won bronze medal places in international cross-country competitions in the space of a week.

Phillip Berntsen, from Peter Symonds Sixth Form College in Winchester, celebrated his 18th birthday by finishing in third place for England at the under-23s meeting at Elgoibar, Spain.

Then his fellow student, Lorna Russell, 18, finished third in the under- 20s event at the Italica international held near Seville, as part of an England team that took the first three places.

Phillip, who is studying a Btec national diploma in sport, began cross- country running as a way of building his fitness for football, where he played on the left of midfield. But he took to athletics so successfully that football was left behind. Training used to be relatively easy, Phillip said, because he covered only 20 miles a week. His new coach has stepped up the pace and doubled the distance he runs at a local park.

The 6.7km Elgoibar race, which began on the track before heading for parkland, went smoothly, he said. "I felt very relaxed. I don't know whether I was surprised, but everything was going quite well with my race times and I'm a lot more confident in myself. It was a good experience.

"I didn't have the best start. I got boxed in at the start on the track and had to run round the outside to get back in contention. But I was motivated to kick on and get away."

Lorna combines her running with A-level studies in economics, maths, sport and human biology at Peter Symonds. She said: "It was really good - I was quite surprised by how well it went. We ran one smaller lap and one bigger lap, and I was quite controlled for the first one. It was hot and I was mainly running on sand and rocks as it was so dry. It's completely different to running in England."

The upper-sixth student, who plans to study economics at university when she leaves college next year, says her ambition is to run for Great Britain.

The pairs' success reflects the English Cross Country Association's policy of sending "development teams" of promising young runners to select international meetings to give them their first taste of competing with the world's best. The association said it was an "inspirational" success.

Also competing alongside Phillip Berntsen in the under-23s at Elgoibar was Ben Hunter, 17, who studies for a sports and exercise Btec at Seevic College in Benfleet, Essex. He earned a creditable 9th place out of a field of about 200 runners.

Ben, who hopes to earn a place at St Mary's University College in Twickenham with its Olympic standard training facilties, said: "The great thing is that I've got quite a while in this age group to step up and hopefully start to pick up some medals. I'm just going to try to reach my peak at as high a level as I can and see where it takes me."

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