Fionnuala Britton wins the senior race at the European Cross as Great Britain’s Gemma Steel takes bronze, leading the team to gold
With no defending champion Jessica Augusto, the senior women’s race was perhaps the most open of all the events at the European Cross-Country Championships in Velenje, Slovenia. But fired up by memories of agonisingly missing a medal last year having been beaten on the line by former drugs cheat Binnaz Uslu, Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton ensured no one was going to deny her this time.
By the end of the first short lap, a lead pack had formed, including Britton, Uslu, Adriene Herzog, Ana Dulce Felix and Nadia Ejjafini.
The British team, led by Trials winner Hatti Dean and Gemma Steel, took a more conservative approach but were still in contention from the start.
Britton took up the running at the front on the second lap, with Ejjafini and Felix chasing. After eight minutes of running, that trio broke away with Roxana Barca and Uslu a few seconds behind.
It soon became clear that Dean was having an off-day, but British team-mate Steel was having a superb run and moved into fourth place before the end of the third lap.
Steel worked her way into third place and opened a gap on Felix, but Britton and Ejjafini were still clear in the lead by three seconds.
Britton dug in again at the end of the fourth lap, and it was a move that broke Ejjafini. The Italian dropped to third as Steel moved into the silver medal position.
On the penultimate lap, Britton continued to lead by three seconds from Steel, as Felix passed Ejjafini to move into a medal position.
As the bell sounded for the final lap, Britton still looked the picture of focus and confidence as she extended her lead. Steel started to show signs of tiredness, but was trying to maintain her advantage over Felix.
With 600m left, Felix overtook Steel, her marathon strength showing. Britton continued to push ahead and allowed herself a smile as she entered the finishing straight a clear winner, having covered the 8km course in 25:55. Felix finished in second with 26:02, two seconds ahead of Steel.
But despite surrendering the silver in the final stages, Steel could take consolation from the fact that Great Britain won team gold, with Freya Murray, Julia Bleasdale and Elle Baker all finishing in the top 15. Dean, meanwhile, faded to 18th.
» This Thursday’s issue of Athletics Weekly will feature much more coverage from the Euro Cross, with photos of all races, in-depth reports and analysis over 11-12 pages of the magazine.