GB & NI Top Medal Table with Nine Medals

8th December 2013

Great Britain & Northern Ireland continued their dominance at the European Cross Country Championships as they topped the medal table with a total of nine medals on a cold day in Belgrade, Serbia.

Senior Men – 10km

There was a dramatic finish to the final race of the day as Andy Vernon (coach: Nic Bideau) clinched a bronze medal in the final metres of the race and the GB & NI team won bronze by just six points.

A relentless pace was set by Alemayehu Bezabeh and Hassan Chahdi but the British athletes moved through the field well and after 4,000m Vernon was sixth with Tom Farrell (Dave Smith) 12th and Keith Gerrard (Art Acevedo) 19th.

Vernon continued to progress steadily and was just five seconds from a podium position going into the last lap, with GB & NI two points adrift of France in the team standings.

Vernon, a two-time under 23 medallist at these championships, rallied to close the gap on third place and won an almighty scrap with Belgium’s Jeroen D’Hoedt down the home straight to snatch the bronze medal by less than a second.

Farrell, who was fourth in the senior men’s race last year, held his position to cross the line in 12th and he was closely followed by Gerrard in 20th and Adam Hickey (Eamonn Martin), who caught a trio of rivals in the last hundred metres to help his teammates to third place.

Charlie Hulson (Paul Roden) placed 37th on his senior GB & NI debut while Frank Tickner (Clive Thomas) was 47th.

Having set himself the target of an individual medal before the race, Vernon was delighted to leave Belgrade with bronze.

He said: “It felt good to win a medal. It was fast from the start; I held on as much as I caught but with the gap forming I was at my limit from about four laps to go. I ploughed on and ticked the laps off then made a big effort in the last lap to close the gap.

“Coming round the top bend I went into third and I made a long run for home, the Belgian came past me quite quickly with about 150m but I sprinted as hard as I could and just got there. I didn’t leave anything out there today and it’s good to come away with something.”

Senior Women – 8km

The European Cross Country Championship medals are stacking up for Gemma Steel (John Nuttall). Eclipsing her performance in Velenje two years ago, the Charnwood athlete scooped a silver medal in Belgrade today.

The in-form athlete held off challenges from Portugal’s Dulce Felix and Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton to clinch second place with France’s Sophie Duarte taking the title.

There was also team gold following sterling performances from Julia Bleasdale (self-coached) seventh, Lauren Howarth (Pete Riley) 11th and Steph Twell (Mick Woods) 15th. Katie Brough (Andew Carter) and Lauren Deadman (Bill Foster) finished 27th and 43rd.

“I was chuffed with beating Dulce (Felix) in a sprint finish,” said 28-year-old Steel.

“It was nice to beat Fionnuala (Britton) who has been a big rival over the years. It’s just a shame I got a bit boxed in at the start but I couldn’t do anything about that as I set off as fast as I could.

“It would have been nice to win today but I couldn’t really do anything once she (Duarte) opened the gap up.

“It was only my second cross country race this year and I’m not used to the pushing and shoving of it. Fingers crossed for gold next time.”

Under 23 Men – 8km
Strong performances from all six of the GB & NI team clinched team gold in the under 23 men’s race.

After a rapid first couple of minutes the pace eventually settled down and all of GB & NI’s athletes were to the fore, with Dewi Griffiths (Kevin Evans) helping to maintain an honest pace at the front of the field.

Griffiths continued to lead after 3,500m and GB & NI had four athletes in the top ten with Luke Caldwell (Robert Russell) in third, Callum Hawkins (Robert Hawkins) fifth and Jonathan Hay (Woods) ninth.

Hawkins and Caldwell then shared the lead and stretched out the field and were part of a group of six battling for medals on the final lap. They ultimately finished fifth and seventh respectively and were backed up by 2011 European Junior 5,000m bronze medallist Hay in 12th and Griffiths in 16th, 22 places higher than in Budapest last year, to ensure another team gold for GB & NI.

Richard Goodman, who won silver at this event in 2011 as an individual, was 21st and Jack Goodwin (Simon Goodwin) finished 33rd at what was his first European Cross Country Championships.

However, Caldwell, who was tenth at NCAA Cross Country Championships in the USA last month, was disappointed to miss out on an individual medal.

He said: “I’m pretty gutted to be honest. I came here to try and win and I really thought I could get a medal. I knew I had to pick it up and make it hard, there were some top class 1500m runners in the race, but I didn’t quite have it today on a flat course.”

“The team gold is awesome though and I’m really pleased with that. I couldn’t give any more, when they went I had shot my bolt already.”

Under 23 Women – 6km

Charlotte Purdue (Woods) and her fellow GB & NI team mates were a class above the rest of the field in the under 23 women race.

All six of the team finished inside the top 16 to comprehensively win team gold. Purdue was the highest individual placing with a bronze medal.

Despite finishing third, Purdue conceded she was a little downbeat.

“I’m very disappointed. I always give myself really high expectations,” she said.

“I did go in there hoping for the win but hand on heart I can say I couldn’t have tried any harder which for me to say is quite rare. I always sometimes feel I could have given a bit more.

“Before the race Mick (Woods) did say to me to get a medal would be exceeding expectations from where I’ve come from. I only started back running in August, so I’ve got to be happy but in my own mind I’m disappointed.”

On her GB & NI debut Jessica Andrews (Woods) was 16th. There was a fourth place finish for Kate Avery (Tony Simmons), with Lilly Partridge (Woods) following closely in fifth. Rhona Auckland (Joyce Hogg) and London 2012 Olympian Laura Weightman (Steve Cram) were seventh and eighth.

Under 20 Men – 6km
The GB & NI under 20 men were left disappointed as they narrowly missed out on a team medal, finishing fourth overall with 67 points as all six made their European Cross Country Championships debuts.

Jonathan Davies (Rob McKim) arrived in Serbia unbeaten this cross country season and despite running an excellent race finished outside the medals by just one second in fourth place.

After a quick start to the race, the pace settled before a three-man breakaway emerged. Turkey’s Ali Kaya and Belgium’s Isaac Kimeli remained a long way clear but Russia’s Mikhail Sterkov was always coming back to Davies and he almost caught him on the line after a strong last lap.

The European Junior 5,000m bronze medallist admitted that finishing fourth both as an individual and a team was hard to take.

“Obviously finishing fourth is not what you want,” he said. “I really wanted to be on the podium. I did my best on the last lap but my mistake was not going with the guys when they went; I thought they’d fall off a bit more but the guy in third held on well.

“I felt pretty comfortable for the first two laps, after about a lap and a half they pushed on and I made a decision then hoping that I’d come through if I kept at the front of the second group.”

GB & NI’s second counter was Matthew Shirling (Adrian Webb) in 15th, Michael Callegari (Nadeem Shaikh) was 22nd, Alex Short (Phil O’Dell) was 26th, Jack Crabtree (Norman Poole) was 29th and Zak Miller (Paul Shaw), the youngest male athlete on the GB & NI team, was 31st.

Under 20 Women – 4km
Emelia Gorecka (Woods) signed off her junior career in style with a gold medal – her fourth consecutive individual podium finish at the European Cross Country Championships.

The Aldershot, Farnham & District athlete capped off a memorable day with a team gold for the GB & NI junior women.

The 19-year-old’s margin of victory was by an astonishing 10 seconds from Poland’s Sofia Ennaoui. 

“I’m really happy,” exclaimed Gorecka. “It was a really good race and the team ran really well. The first two laps were really hectic and there was a lot of pushing and shoving.

“I said yesterday everything was similar to Slovenia two years ago where I won last time. The course, the conditions, the weather and what I wore was all building up to the same thing. So I was thinking it has be the time again to win.

“It was nice to sign it off and it was never going to be easy. I could have never predicted the top 10 because there are so many different girls.”

Georgia Taylor Brown (Paul Roden) finished fourth despite her shoe coming off at the Park of Friendship.

“My right shoe came off in the first lap,” revealed the triathlon specialist.

“I didn’t know what to do so I had to stop and put it back on. It was a chaotic start. I’ve never had it before and I did panic a bit. I saw one of the GB & NI team staff and they told me don’t panic and take your time.”

There was top 13 finishes for Bobby Clay (Peter Mullervy), Jessica Gibbon (Rob McKim) and Lydia Turner (Thomas Millmore) – eighth, 11th and 13th. Amy Griffiths (Mick Woods) was 47th.

British Athletics Performance Director Neil Black said:
“There was some incredible performances today. Team medals in lots of different categories as well as outstanding individual performances. Emelia Gorecka winning in her last year as an under 20 and Andy Vernon storming down the home straight to a photo finish and getting third place. There was absolutely brilliant performances all round.

“Cross country is re-establishing itself as the background to endurance running. We are looking forward now to converting cross country to the track. We are really putting a huge effort into that conversion."