Ice work at Euro Cross!

Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton defended her title in style while every GB athlete in Hungary won a medal

Fionnuala Britton

Fionnuala Britton of Ireland became the first athlete to successfully defend the senior women’s title, while Andrea Lalli of Italy took the senior men’s title in snowy, sub-zero conditions in Szentendre on Sunday.

When it came to the team stakes, Great Britain again proved they are kings and queens of Europe by earning medals in every race, plus individual gold from Jess Coulson in the under-23 women’s event.

It meant every GB athlete would travel home with a medal and in addition there were individual medals from Emelia Gorecka (silver, under-20 women), Kieran Clements (bronze, under-20 men), James Wilkinson (bronze, under-23 men), while Tom Farrell justified his selection by placing a fine fourth in the men’s race.

Most athletes conducted interviews shivering under heavy blankets due to the cold. A number also fell in the icy conditions, especially in the rutted start area. Then there were the well-documented travel problems prior to the races, where the closure of Budapest Airport on Friday led to most teams being redirected to Vienna and coached into the Hungarian capital.

This did not stop the 19th edition of the championship from enjoying record entries of 35 teams. Despite the bitterly cold weather, the undulating and snow-covered course at Szentendre, about 20km north of Budapest, was also a success with athletes running around a huge open air museum of 18th century Hungarian houses, past a windmill and even through a barn.

Previous winners of the Euro Cross include Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe and the victory by Britton was Radcliffe-esque as the Irishwoman pushed the pace relentlessly before finally breaking her closest rival, European 10,000m champion Ana Dulce Felix of Portugal, in the closing stages. What’s more, Ireland won an unexpected team gold after tying on points – and winning on countback – with France. Led by Louise Damen in 11th, Britain won bronze – and the team also included Emily Wicks, in 33rd, who had dropped out of last year’s Euro Cross and was hospitalised with a collapsed lung.

Lalli enjoyed a more relaxed victory in the men’s race as the Italian won by 10 seconds from Hassan Chahdi of France with Daniele Meucci of Italy third and the 21-year-old Farrell only one second away from a medal in fourth.

Sergiy Lebid, meanwhile, failed in his bid to win an amazing 10th men’s title as the Ukrainian finished 15th. And Atelaw Bekele, the Ethiopian-born Belgian who won last year in Slovenia, trailed home in 58th. It was just as well as it would have caused embarrassment if he’d retained his title – or even won a minor medal – due to the fact he’s waiting for an anti-doping hearing later this month for missing three out-of-competition drugs tests.

Spain won the men’s team gold with one of the Spaniards who was part of Belgrave’s controversial winning team at the English Cross Country Relays in Mansfield recently. Behind Farrell, Steve Vernon in 10th, Jonny Taylor 11th and Andy Vernon 13th helped GB to team bronze.

As a former Norwegian junior cross-country skiing champion, Henrik Ingebrigtsen was clearly at home in the conditions and won the under-23 men’s title by 10 seconds from Soufiane Bouchikhi of Belgium with Wilkinson in third leading Britain to team bronze.  Ingebrigtsen, only 21, also relished the frozen-hard surface and used a track pedigree that includes winning the European 1500m title earlier this year.

Biggest British smile of the day – and a few tears too – went to Jess Coulson, who won the under-23 women’s gold in convincing style and was bolstered by Lauren Howarth in fifth, Hannah Walker in 12th and Lily Partridge in 15th as GB took team silver behind Russia.

Coulson won the British senior trial last month and has also beaten Britton this winter, so will no doubt challenge for the senior title in 2013. She lives in Stockport but is advised by the great Euro Cross coaching mastermind Mick Woods.

Woods also coaches Emelia Gorecka, who put up a sterling defence of her under-20 women’s title before succumbing to Amela Terzic – the European under-20 1500m and 3000m champion from Serbia. It was a ding-dong battle, with the lead changing several times in the closing stages, but Gorecka was still smiling afterwards – through chattering teeth – as she won team gold thanks to good backing from Annabel Mason in fifth, Jennifer Walsh in 8th and Jess Judd in 13th. The Briton added she could return to try to retain her title in 2013, too, while Terzic moves into the under-23 age group.

Szymon Kulka of Poland won the junior men’s gold ahead of Mitko Rumenov Tsenov of Bulgaria and Kieran Clements of Britain. Like Farrell, Clements studies in the United States and was backed up by Charlie Grice in ninth, Ian Bailey in 18th and Charlie Hulson in 24th as Britain won bronze in a team event won by Russia.

A huge turn-out of Irish supporters made sure Britton got the biggest cheer of the day, but there was also a large GB contingent in Budapest who saw, among other things, the GB team surpass the historical landmark of 100 medals since the event began in 1994.

» The next issue of Athletics Weekly, out on Thursday December 13, will contain at least 14 pages of Euro Cross action.


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