European 1500m champion leads Great Britain to relay victory while European team takes overall win at international
The venue may have changed, but the outcome of the mixed relay event stayed the same as Laura Muir anchored Great Britain to victory at the climax of the Simplyhealth Great Stirling XCountry.
Having been staged in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park since 2005, this traditional international kick-off to the athletics year – won overall by the European team – had moved a few miles west to another of Scotland’s most historic cities and Muir (pictured top) looked right at home on the King’s Park turf to end the day on a winning note.
In truth, the European 1500m champion didn’t have to really hit top gear after an impressive second leg from Alex Bell which established a commanding lead for her country.
America’s Danielle Shanahan had relinquished top spot on that leg when she almost took a wrong turning and lost all momentum, but Bell was utterly dominant.
Phil Sesemann maintained the gap before handing over to Muir, who revelled in the attentions of the Scottish crowd and brought the team home in a combined time of 17:36 for the 4 x 1.5km event, with Europe’s senior team clocking 17:45 for second and the senior USA team third in 18:01. It’s the fourth consecutive time Muir has anchored Britain to victory in the event.
There were junior teams also contesting the race, Britain’s line-up coming sixth.
Muir will now head off to South Africa for a training camp in preparation for the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow and said: “It was fantastic to get such a strong lead. I was thinking ‘no pressure there then’.
“They did such a good job of getting me in a really good position.
“When I saw they were quite far ahead, I thought I could take it a bit easier over the first half and then be strong to the finish. It’s quite a bit longer than I’m used to so it was a matter of judging it and being strong to the end.
“Until the halfway point, I wanted to conserve my effort. It was getting really windy so I wanted to be able to react if someone caught up.”
Jamie Williamson had led out the British team and the result was of huge significance to the 21-year-old. Earning his second GB vest, he had been looking to make amends after his unfortunate slip which proved costly to the mixed relay team at the European Cross Country Championships last month.
“That made up for Tilburg,” grinned Williamson. “I was really disappointed with the fall at the Euros but we all had strong legs and then I knew Laura would take it for us at the end.”
Wrong turning can’t stop Bor from clinching maiden win
America’s Hillary Bor ultimately had to cover a little extra distance to win the first cross country race of his career in the men’s 8km.
The man who finished seventh in the Rio Olympics 3000m steeplechase took a wrong turn in the early stages of the fourth lap, just when he was holding a two-second advantage over his team-mate and defending champion Leonard Korir, who followed him down the wrong path.
Both African-born Americans lost a couple of seconds but Bor refused to panic and quickly regained his place at the head of affairs.
There was still a tense battle all the way to the finish line but Bor just edged Europe’s Napoleon Solomon, both being given the time of 23:48, while Adel Mechaal was third for Europe in 23:49, the same time recorded by fourth-placed Korir, who had been looking to follow up with another victory after consecutive wins in Edinburgh.
Patrick Dever was the first Briton home, in ninth, with 24:05 and compatriot Nick Goolab finished 10th, five seconds back.
“There was a little bit of panic,” admitted Bor. “I had to use a lot of energy to get back (after going the wrong way). When it happened, the group was closing so I had to change my stride. But when I got back to them, I felt good and I had to push it again. When I was coming, I knew I had a chance. I was able to compose myself.
“It was an exciting race. I used to hate cross country but now I like it. And now I’ll hope to make the team for the world cross country.”
Arter gives her all but Burkard takes top spot
Britain’s Charlotte Arter gave it everything she had, but Europe’s Elena Burkard proved just too strong in the women’s 6km race.
Arter has been enjoying a rich vein of form, having come seventh at the European Cross Country Championships and showing that her winter training is clearly working with a record-breaking recent parkrun performance.
The confidence she has taken from those showings was evident as she pushed to the front and made the running. Having just come through the bell, however, Burkard moved in front on an uphill and into a lead she would not relinquish.
The German, who is also a cross-country skier, broke the tape in 20:01, five seconds ahead of Arter, with European under-23 champion Anna-Emilie Møller a further five seconds back.
Britain’s Pippa Woolven and Verity Ockenden both finished strongly to clock 20:15 and 20:16 in fourth and fifth place respectively.
“I had to attack that and be brave,” said Arter. “For two laps I went for it. Maybe a little too hard and a lap too soon. But I committed to it. Elena caught me up and it was a matter of hanging on but I’m happy to come second.”
For Burkard, she was hopeful the result would strengthen her claims to be selected for the World Cross Country in March.
“I’m going to be really lucky if I get selected,” she admitted. “Hopefully this will be an argument for me today. I felt good I didn’t really have a race plan but it was really windy so I tried to stay patient and not jump the gun. It worked out well.”
The overall standings finished just as they did a year ago in Edinburgh, with Europe proving strongest.
1 Europe: 55
2 GB: 84
3 USA: 90
The international action in Stirling was preceded by the Scottish Inter-District contests.
Lachlan Oates of Shettleston Harriers was first over the line in the men’s race, with his West of Scotland side taking the team title. Nathan Dunn of Preston AC was first under-20, running for North of England.
In the women’s race, Scottish Students’ Mhairi Maclennan took outright victory, with East of Scotland landing the team win, while Eloise Walker of Edinburgh AC claimed the under-20 title.
The under-17 titles went to Hamish Armitt (Giffnock North), as he led West of Scotland to team success, and Cera Gemmell of Team East Lothian, who did the same for East of Scotland.
Inverness Harriers’ Luca Cairns was the under-15 boys champion, West topping the team standings, and Anna Hedley of Fife AC took the girls’ crown as West also finished first team.
West were also under-13 boys’ team champions, though East’s Finlay Ross (Harmeny AC) was first home, while Inverness Harriers’ Anna Cairns was the girls’ champion as East won top team.
» See the January 17 edition of AW magazine for full coverage