SHILDON AC's Kate Avery proved the country's best under-13 girl cross-country runner when she completed a hat-trick of major titles in the English National Championships at Birmingham.

The 13-year-old Woodham schoolgirl, winner of the North-East and North of England gold medals, won the most prestigious crown after a tremendous duel with runner-up Cathy Freeman, of Dulwich Harriers.

Avery, who also won the Durham Schools junior girls' title, briefly lost the lead at the halfway mark but battled back over the final 500 metres to win by three seconds.

She said: "I really enjoyed the race but it was a very tough course."

Now Avery will try for the English Schools junior girls' crown at Norwich next month, but the odds will be stacked against her as she goes in at the bottom of the age group and races against girls a year her senior.

Avery's gold was the North-East's only individual medal on a day of disappointment for the region's athletes, though Northern champions Sunderland Harriers won the under-13 boys' team bronze medals.

The usually strong Morpeth Harriers failed for the first time in many years to finish a six-man team in the senior men's race.

Chester-le-Street, the 2002 women's champions, came within three points of a medal in the senior women's race, finishing fourth just behind Tipton.

They were led home by England international Morag McDonnell in ninth place, their other counters being Alyson Dixon (19th), Maxine Czarnecka (63rd) and veteran Heather Robinson (101st).

Delyth James, the North-East and Northern champion, finished a disappointing 28th in the under-17 women's event, while Morpeth clubmate Aiveen Fox, the Northern gold medallist, was tenth in the junior women, with North-East champion Johanna Jackson also down the field in 43rd position.

Middlesbrough Mandale looked set for a medal in the under-17 men's race after Jonathon Taylor finished fifth and the next men were 41st and 42nd - but the Teessider's fourth and final counter came home in 227th, dropping them down to seventh place. Morpeth finished fourth.

* High jumper Julie Crane of Sale Harriers raised the Welsh indoor record 4cm when she cleared the European Indoor Championships qualifying height of 1.90m at an indoor meeting at Loughborough University.

Steve Lewis, of City of Stoke AC, raised the UK Under-20 pole vault mark to 5.25m.