The British team won five gold medals and four bronze medals to top the medal table at the European Cross Country Championships in Samorin, Slovakia. Harriet Knowles-Jones (coach: Paul Roden, club: Warrington) was crowned champion in the U20 women’s contest whilst Andy Butchart (Terrance Mahon, Central AC) and Jess Judd (Mick Judd, Chelmsford) won individual bronze medals in the senior men’s and U23 women’s races respectively.
On a day when every female athlete on the British team won a gold medal, it was Knowles-Jones who kicked that spectacular run off by completing her set of U20 individual medals at these championships as she took the title after a dominant display. Her win significantly contributed to the U20 women’s team also capturing the overall gold medal in impressive fashion.
The Warrington athlete won silver in 2015 and bronze in 2016 but you could see the joy on her face as she crossed the line in her final race as a junior athlete. She was always within the leading pack but on the final lap, she made the decisive move, pulling away with controlled ease which her opponents could not match.
Knowles-Jones commented on her win: “I’ve completed the set so I can’t ask for any more. My mum was crying as I crossed the line, and I was almost crying, it’s an amazing feeling. I was chuffed for her to see it; she comes out to pretty much every race.
“It’s been such a mad season, and I have been really nervous about this as it’s my last chance to get that gold as a junior so I can’t believe I did it. It means so much to me and it’s brilliant for the whole team to win the team gold too. It just makes for the perfect day.”
The British team ran exceptionally with Cari Hughes (Andrew Walling, Swansea Harriers) claiming ninth place on her international debut followed by European Junior 800m champion Khahisa Mhlanga (Mick Judd, Chelmsford) in 11th; both athletes recovering from falls on the course. AFD’s Niamh Brown (Mick Woods) ran a terrific race for 12th in a frantic sprint to the line for the Britons whilst late call-up Phoebe Barker (Richard Owen, Tonbridge) was 43rd with Plymouth’s Victoria Weir (Bud Baldaro) in 52nd to complete the gold-medal winning team.
There was delight for Andy Butchart in the senior men’s race who went one better than last year, winning bronze in the senior men’s race after a brave effort from the Olympic and world finalist; the senior men’s team also won bronze overall.
He took on the pace early on alongside Dewi Griffiths (Kevin Evans, Swansea) who sadly had to withdraw due to cramp. However, Butchart fought on well, and continued to be a long time leader but was ultimately caught with two laps to go as the Turkish athlete Kaan Kigen Özbilen and Spaniard Adel Mechaal moved away from the Briton. He valiantly held on to earn his place on the podium individually at these championships for the first time.
Butchart commented afterwards: “It was very different to last year. With the weather being so cold this year, training had to be different but out on the racecourse it went perfectly. It went exactly how I wanted it to go and I was confident from the start knowing I was in reasonable shape.
“The last lap was frustrating, once they were gone they were gone and on this sort of course there is no way of catching them. I wish I could have stayed with them but I lost a bit of concentration and that’s all it takes. I’m happy with the bronze medal and hopefully there will be many more to come.”
Ben Connor (Steve Vernon, Stockport) ran a superb race to place sixth overall; he had been third at the halfway point but couldn’t quite keep with the intense pace of the leading three on the final couple of laps. Tom Lancashire (Steve Cram, Bolton) was the third British counter in 26th, followed by Alexander Teuten (Roderick Lock, Southampton) 38th and Sam Stabler (Rob Denmark, Leicester) coming through in 45th.
Earlier in the day, Jess Judd (Mick Judd, Chelmsford) endured a lonely but an enjoyable race to win her first U23 individual bronze medal at these championships, as the German pair of Alina Reh and Konstanze Klosterhalfen battled for the gold and silver medals. Judd – who has enjoyed a string of good performances during 2017 – ran on her own from start to finish after opening up a comfortable gap on the first lap and never looked back. Despite describing the race as fairly “boring”, she was very happy to reach the podium.
Bronze medallist Judd said: “It was a lonely race out there, I was alone from the start and I wanted to catch the girls ahead but despite closing on every lap I couldn’t quite get to them. But I held on for third which was my main aim towards the end. I was thinking about my training in my head, and tried hard not to spurt and use all of my energy and I stuck to my plan.
There was further good news for Judd as the U23 women’s team won the gold medal. Amy-Eloise Neale (Greg Metcalf, Wakefield) – competing at her first European cross country champs – battled hard with teammate Amy Griffiths (Rob Denmark, AFD) for the majority of the contest, both helping each other on the fast and flat course as temperatures barely reached above freezing. Although there was a significant gap behind the medal positions, they placed fourth and fifth respectively.
Mhairi MacLennen (John Lees, Inverness) and Phoebe Law (Woods, Kingston & Poly) fought to the line for ninth and tenth respectively with Philippa Bowden (Woods, AFD) in 13th to complete an excellent set of results for the squad of six who enjoyed their moment on top of the podium.
Judd added on the team gold: “It was incredible to get a 3, 4, 5 finish. We didn’t expect to win the team gold, and knew that the Germans would be really strong but to get team gold is amazing and I am really proud of the girls. We are a nice team and all get along which makes it even better to come here together and win gold.”
With the U20 and U23 women’s teams winning gold earlier, the senior women completed the trio of team medals, securing a fantastic gold medal after fine displays including five athletes within the top 15.
Charlotte Taylor (Helen Lehman-Winters, Nene Valley) led the British team, crossing the line as first counter in sixth. The union flag was present multiple times in the top ten, team captain Emelia Gorecka (Chris Thompson, AFD), Steph Twell (Woods, AFD) and Gemma Steel (Liz Nuttall, Charnwood) finishing well for eighth, ninth and tenth respectively.
Lily Partridge (AFD) lost one of her spikes near the start of the race and despite attempts to put it back on, it affected her performance and she was disappointed post-race. However, she bravely ran on for 15th place, a worthy achievement after the issues that disrupted her rhythm in the early stages. Elle Vernon (David Turnbull, Stockport) was the final British athlete back in 48th.
On its inaugural appearance at these championships, the British team swept the gold medal in the senior mixed relay in comfortable style. Each with a leg of 1500m to contend, Melissa Courtney (Rob Denmark, Shaftesbury Barnet) ran a solid first leg, handing over to Cameron Boyek (David Lowes, Shildon) in third position narrowly behind the Czech Republic and Spain. Boyek moved on the pace over his lap, extending a small gap which proved key.
Sarah McDonald (David Harmer, Birchfield) took up the running on the penultimate lap; the 1500m specialist negotiating the technical course supremely to put the British team in a commanding position. In fact, once Tom Marshall (James Thie, Cardiff) took up the running, it seemed inevitable that the British team would win yet another gold medal, and on his debut, he completed the course professionally to take the tape in first place.
The U23 men’s team spoke beforehand about targeting the team bronze and it was mission accomplished after some fine performances from the sextet. Last year’s U20 bronze medallist Mahamed Mahamed (Peter Haynes, Southampton) was the first across the line in 12th adapting very well to the step up in age category at this level. Chris Olley (Mark Hookway) ran a superb final lap to just finish behind his teammate in 13th; the Tonbridge athlete was leading at one stage early on.
Patrick Dever (Andy Bibbey, Preston) finished well for 16th, Joe Steward (Harry Kelly, East Cheshire) was 25th, Jack Rowe (Lehman-Winters, AFD) close behind in 31st and Dan Jarvis (Woods, Liverpool) crossing the line in 40th as the team earned their place on the podium.
The junior men’s team placed sixth overall in the standings with a fast finishing Matt Willis (Self-coached, Wrexham AC) leading the British contingent back in 14th position. Trials winner Ben Dijkstra (Alan Maddocks, Leicester) was one of those caught by Willis’ fast final 150m, so he took 17th place.
Will Richardson (Peter Stewart, Birchfield Harriers) – similarly to the trials in Liverpool – took a share of the lead after the opening couple of laps but finished the race in 25th, with Scott Beattie (Mike Bateman, Morpeth) two positions further back in 27th. Jake Heyward (James Thie, Cardiff) was next back in 30th with Lachlan Wellington (Vince Stamp, City of Portsmouth) – the youngest British junior men’s competitor at the Europeans – 60th.
Highlights can be found on BBC Two this evening at 00:00 or Monday 11 December at 13:00. They will be available on BBC iPlayer afterwards.
The British Medallists at the 2017 European Cross Country Championships:
Harriet Knowles-Jones – U20 Women
Senior Women’s Team
U23 Women’s Team
U20 Women’s Team
Senior Mixed Relay Team
Andy Butchart – Senior Men
Jess Judd – U23 Women