A link to a film about the Hunt made by ITN/IAAF Productions and broadcast at the World Cross-Country Championships is included at the end of this article.
“All hounds who wish to run, run hard, run well, and may the devil take the hindmost!”
The Huntsman’s rallying cry - and accompanying bugle call - have echoed over Shrewsbury’s campus and Shropshire hillside for countless generations, but over the Easter holidays both would resonate around the world as the Hunt took centre stage at the 2019 World Cross-Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark.
At the invitation of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the championship organisers, this year’s Huntsman Charlie Ockleston (O U6) flew out to take part in the 2019 World Championships as the event sought to reconnect with the sport’s rich history here in Shrewsbury where the sport has its origins.
On the eve of the championships and following a series of media engagements, Charlie, his father Hugh and I were invited to the IAAF ‘Legends Dinner’ which was hosted by IAAF President Lord Coe at Aarhus Town Hall and attended by representatives from all the major Athletics Federations alongside past cross-country champions including Paula Radcliffe, John Treacy, Paul Tergat, Wendy Sly and Lynne Jennings.
All would receive special commemorative awards recognising their contributions to the sport. Between them, those awarded these prizes had over 30 world championship golds! Imagine our surprise and delight, then, when the final recipient of a Heritage Award was announced as Shrewsbury School in recognition for the role it has played in the sport’s origins.
As dawn broke on race day and we waited for the bus to take us to the race venue, there was a feeling of both excitement and nervous anticipation with Charlie’s big moment on the global stage edging closer. With the championship races underway, we watched from the grass-covered roof of the Moesgaard museum as the athletes tackled the gruelling course which had deliberately been designed as a tough and gritty series of undulations, much like those early runs over Shropshire hillside. Amongst the runners was GB senior Oliver Fox (pictured below with Charlie), who also happens to be Mr Bell’s godson. We asked Oliver whether his godfather had been his inspiration and athletic hero. He declined to comment.
With the early races concluded, Charlie was whisked away to prepare for the U20 men’s race with the crowd of supporters now numbering in the tens of thousands. Hugh and I looked on nervously as the junior men were brought out and the race announcer introduced Charlie, inviting the Shrewsbury School Huntsman to send the hounds on their way. A long walk to the microphone in front of the race start and our hearts were a-flutter. Weeks and months of practice had led to this point but, even so, there were a few anxious moments as we awaited the moment of truth. The rallying cry ‘All hounds...’ was delivered in confident, sonorous tones and then, slowly, Charlie raised the bugle to his lips. A slight adjustment and then... yes, a glorious, thrilling and triumphantly sustained note! Long, strong and fuelled by a heady cocktail of adrenaline and nerves, it was a proud moment for the Ockleston family and a proud moment, too, for Shrewsbury School and the Hunt, perhaps the first time that the bugle has ever sounded on foreign shore, and certainly the largest crowd to hear it!
To top off a weekend to remember, both Charlie and I donned the RSSH vests to run in the Mass 12km cross-country race which would provide us with the very special opportunity of racing over the world championships course, grass roof and all. As someone who has raced over many cross-country courses during my time, I have to say this was the toughest I've ever competed in and by the last lap my lungs were fairly burning and the legs felt full of lead. No issue for the youngster, though, who powered past me in the final section with a spring in his step and, roared on by the crowd, crossed the line in 5th, topping off a memorable day and a remarkable weekend for Shrewsbury’s 188th Huntsman.
A film about the Hunt made by ITN/IAAF Productions and introduced by Tim Hutchings (two-time World XC Silver Medallist), can be viewed via the link below. A shorter version was broadcast at the World XC Championships.