On a fantastic day for cross country running in Aarhus, Denmark, the senior women’s team impressed as they placed fourth overall after a stunning set of performances by the British squad, while two juniors placed in the top 25 of their respective races.
The senior women showed great spirit on the 10km course, forming a superb team effort to place fourth overall behind Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.
They were led home by a strong finishing Kate Avery (Shildon) who built into the contest fantastically, running conservatively in the early stages before picking off her opponents over the 10km course.
After coming through in 60th after lap one of the 2km course, the Shildon athlete found her stride around the undulating Danish course, moving into the top 40 after the second lap. She overtook the fast-starting Jennifer Nesbitt (Chris Jones; Worcester) on lap three, staying with a small group hoping to break into the top thirty. As she rounded ‘the berm’ at the bottom of the museum roof downhill section, she had to fight for her 30th position, holding on for an encouraging result.
Avery commented post-race: “There were certain parts when I thought my legs were going to give way, but when it came to the hills, in my head I kept saying ‘jog, jog, jog’ and it seemed to work because others weren’t. I’m really happy to be the first Brit home, I had the top 30 in my head when I saw the course, so I’m really pleased I did that well.
“My only concern was pacing it right. I’m pleased with how the cross season has gone. I’m still not back up to what I was doing previously so I need to get back to that level.”
52nd, 41st, 37th, 35th and 32nd were the positions Mhairi McLennan (Helen Clitheroe; Edinburgh Uni Hare & Hounds) held after each lap in the contest, the final placing a staggering achievement for the Scottish athlete. It was the great show of strength, moving through the field expertly and working hard on the hills.
She moved passed Nesbitt in the final stages, and it was also a great World Cross debut for the latter, leading the Brits for long periods of the race, before placing as the third counter – 34th overall – in the best European outfit on the day.
Team captain Jess Piasecki (Robert Hawkins; Stockport) was not too far behind, finishing strongly for 36th to confirm four Britons inside the top 40 on the world stage.
Piasecki added: “There are no other words to describe that course other than a monster. On the first lap I thought ‘I feel OK here’ even though I told myself not to go too hard. I let some people go through, but you can’t rehearse for a challenge like that.
“I’m happy I came through because normally I die a death and managed to take some positions on the final lap and stuck it out for the team. The girls had storming runs.”
Emily Hosker-Thornhill (Mick Woods; Aldershot, Farnham & District) crossed the line in 48th, while Amelia Quirk (Mick Woods; Bracknell AC), at just 19 years-old and making her senior British debut, came home in 79th place, battling hard for the team.
As for the senior men, Patrick Dever (Andy Bibby; Preston) was the standout performer as he came through the field majestically to seal 37th place, contributing to the ninth-place finish of the team overall.
Following the Loughborough-based athlete was Mahamed Mahamed (Peter Haynes; Southampton AC) who negotiated the course very well, pacing it perfectly as he moved into 44th place at the end, having come through the first few laps outside the top 70.
Making his first World Cross appearance for 12 years, Adam Hickey (Eamonn Martin; Southend) was next home in 51st while Oliver Fox (Richard Llewellyn Eaton; Wells City) was 58th, not too far behind the Essex athlete.
Ross Millington (Jon Brown; Stockport) and Luke Traynor (Robert Hawkins; Giffnock North) placed 64th and 107th respectively.
Joshua Cheptegei (UGA) won the race, making up for his dramatic finish in Kampala two years previously, when he missed out on a medal in the closing stages.
Trials winner Grace Brock (Cornwall) continued her excellent cross-country season by finishing as the first British finisher in 25th place in the junior women’s contest. She built into the race fantastically, moving from 59th on the first lap, into the top 30 after the second lap, and kept on moving up the field.
Placing as the second European behind Italy’s Nadia Battocletti, it was a step-up by Brock who placed 11th at the European Cross country just four months ago.
An ecstatic Brock spoke afterwards: “It was amazing – and the European champion only overtook me on the last bit. To make that jump from 11th at Europeans and to be second European here is more than I could have asked for. It was an amazing atmosphere all around the course and that really spurred me on in the closing stages.
“I knew the start was going to be fast, so my plan was to hold back a bit and then when it started to stretch out, I would start to move up. That was my plan and I felt like I executed it really well. I maybe didn’t kick quite as well as I would have liked at the end, but I am really pleased. 25th place is a higher placing than I was expecting so I’m over the moon.”
Another debutant, Amelia Samuels (John Abbiss; Wolverhampton & Bilston), enjoyed her maiden appearance for Great Britain & Northern Ireland, crossing the line in 35th and the second Brit. Samuels was 57th after the first lap but continued to pick her rivals off, helping the team on their way to seventh position overall.
Becky Briggs (Derek Ricketts; City of Hull) and Charlotte Alexander (Wayne Vinton; Herne Hill) placed 44th and 49th, while Eloise Walker (John Lees; Edinburgh AC) battled well to 51st position. Olivia Mason (Graeme Mason; Border Harriers) admitted she paid the price for a fast start but ran a solid race to place 57th overall.
The British team finished seventh overall, the top Europeans in the field. Ethiopia took the team title overall with Kenya’s Beatrice Chebet winning the race individually.
There was an eighth-place finish for the British junior men’s team, with Matt Willis (self-coached; Wrexham) matching the 25th position of his compatriot in the women’s race, similarly the second European finisher behind the prolific Jakob Ingebrigtsen.
It was an excellent result for the Welshman who was the top Briton at the European Cross-Country Championships in Tilburg last year. He certainly played the course to his strengths, battling hard in the downhill sections when his opponents were reeling from the hill climb. It was a demonstration of strength from the youngster, moving from 34th on lap one to the top 25 after 7km.
Willis spoke afterward: “I’m really happy; I wasn’t expecting to run that well at all. I’m just over the moon to finish in 25th.
“The first lap was ok but then it became a lot harder on the other laps. The sand was particularly hard to run through. The hills were hard, but I adored the downhills; I used my strength wisely to make up for my weaknesses on the uphill sections.”
On finishing as second European in the field, he added: “It gives me hope for Europeans in December and gives me that extra bit of motivation.”
After admitting he didn’t “show his best” at the European last December, Rory Leonard (Morpeth) made amends in Aarhus, fighting his way through the field to claim 37th place and in doing so, was the second counter for the GB & NI team.
Euan Brennan (Andrew Henderson; Ilkley) used his mountain running pedigree to good effect, crossing the line in 50th, and was one of several athletes to speak about the sheer speed of the race. Debutants Josh Cowperthwaite (Martin Peevor; Middlesbrough Mandale) and Zakariya Mahamed (Peter Haynes; Southampton AC) were 62nd and 66th respectively, while Ben West (Kyle Bennett; MK Distance Project) unfortunately did not finish.
The race was won overall by Milkasa Mengesha (ETH) with Ethiopia taking the team gold, with GB & NI in eighth overall.