Great Britain and Northern Ireland secured six medals, including one gold, as they finished in fourth place overall at the European Cross Country Championships in Tilburg, the Netherlands.
The Junior Women’s team set the bar in the first race of the day as they were crowned European team champions, following storming runs from Amelia Quirk (coach: Mick Woods; Bracknell AC), Khahisa Mhlanga (Mick Judd; Herts Phoenix) and debutant Grace Brock (Cornwall AC), who finished fifth, seventh and 11th respectively.
Four team silver medals followed for both senior teams, the Under-23 men and Junior men, with Jake Heyward (James Thie; Cardiff) the highest placed Brit in any race, finishing fourth. The Under-23 women claimed team bronze, missing the silver medal by just a point.
Quirk, who slipped back following a fall on the second lap, produced an excellent final lap to be the first Brit home, clocking 13:57, with Mhlanga and Brock notching 14:00 and 14:05 respectively. Cari Hughes (Andy Walling; Swansea) added to her team gold in Samorin with another in Tilburg, finishing in a respectable 13th in 14:10.
Euro Cross debutants Anna MacFadyen (John Lees; Forres) and Tiffany Penfold (Mark Bleasdale; Liverpool Pembroke Sefton) capped excellent performances with respective 20th and 36th place finishes.
Quirk said afterwards: “It went off quite fast but I was feeling quite comfortable. The Irish girl went down right in front of me and I fell on top of her and then someone fell on top of me. I gave it my best shot and it was OK.
“I fell in Liverpool [British trials] but nearer the start, but I know the quicker I get up the less places I am going to lose. The race was moving so quickly at that point, so I knew it was probably changing as I had fallen and when I got back up there were different people around me. It was a shame because I felt if I hadn’t have fallen I could have got a medal, but team gold is amazing.”
The medal haul continued shortly after as the Junior Men took team silver, owed largely in part to a fourth-place finish from European U20 1500m champion Heyward. He kept pace with eventual winner Jakob Ingebrigtsen (NOR) from the off, finishing 16 seconds behind him and just six seconds outside of the medals in 18:16.
Isaac Akers (Bill Boyd/Taylor Gulley; Corby AC) ran through illness to take 12th place in 18:48 with Matt Willis (self; Wrexham) one second and two places further back in 14thas the Brits missed out on gold by just two points.
Jack Meijer (Barry Hearn; Marshall Milton Keynes) and Tom Mortimer (Christopher Brown; Stroud) finished 28th and 32nd respectively, while Rory Leonard (Tony Leonard; Morpeth) finished 72nd after losing both shoes in the mud.
Heyward assessed afterwards: “Obviously it is really difficult missing out on an individual medal yet again, but, at the same time, I am a track runner. It was a proper cross country course this time – the European Champs in the past have been fast and suited to long distance runners.
“It was good to be able to come to the European Cross and show that I have got that strength. It wasn’t quite enough today, but I dug in deep for the team and I am glad we could come away with the team silver.”
There were four Brits inside the top 10 as the senior women’s team secured a team silver medal behind the Netherlands in an a hotly contested race.
Charlotte Arter (Chris Jones; Cardiff), Melissa Courtney (Chris Jones; Cardiff) and Pippa Woolven (Matt Whiting; Wycombe) finished seventh, eighth and ninth respectively, to secure team silver with 24 points, with Jess Piasecki (Robert Hawkins; Stockport Harriers) just behind in 10th.
Team captain Kate Avery (Shildon) finished 15th and Verity Ockenden (Tony Houchin; Swansea) on her first senior Euro Cross appearance, finished 20th as all six British athletes finished in the top-20.
Arter, who won the trial in Liverpool and was the first Brit across the line, assessed: “Great Britain have always had great success at these championships as a team, so you always want to get on the podium. Obviously, we are always striving for that gold medal, but silver as a team, in what I think is a really strong competition, I am really happy with that.
“The start was relentless and I had to have faith that I would get better as the race went on and as I got into my rhythm and I just had to have faith that I could close the gap because I was well off the front lot.
“It took a good two laps to get into my rhythm and then the last two laps there was a really good group of GB girls working together and that really helped me over the final two laps. A tough course, but I was really happy to be the first Briton home.”
Marc Scott (Jerry Schumacher; Richmond & Zetland) required a sprint finish to hold off the challenge of Sean Tobin (IRL) and ensure that there was a silver medal for the senior men’s team, as well as a ninth-place finish for him in 29:21.
Kristian Jones (Swansea), who was brought into the team at short notice to replace the injured Andy Vernon, finished a further seven seconds back in 29:28, chased over the line by Dewi Griffiths (Kevin Evans; Swansea).
Charlie Hulson (Chris Jones; Liverpool) clocked 29:43 to finish ahead of Henrik Ingebrigtsen (NOR) in 17th with Ross Millington (Steve Vernon; Stockport) 30th and Nick Goolab (Craig Winrow; Belgrave Harriers) 47th.
After being forced to pull out of last year’s championships midway through with a torn hamstring, Griffiths feels he is getting back to his best and that a silver medal is a great reward.
“It’s been a long time coming back – the aim was to prove to myself that I can be competitive again at this kind of level. I am so close, I nearly got on the back of that first group. I needed half a lap to recover, but they just went and I couldn’t go with it and from then on it’s about survival. I showed I was as fit as anyone, I didn’t lose much ground, I just couldn’t get on the back of it.
“I think I helped the boys out because they had a target and Kris [Jones] and Marc [Scott] came through. For me personally, it is just nice to be back at this level and hopefully build on it for next year.”
The Under-23s race saw Patrick Dever (Andy Bibby; Preston) and Emile Cairess (Philip Townsend; Leeds City AC) inside the top 10, clocking 24:05 and 24:07 respectively to take fifth and eighth positions.
Like Dever, Mahamed Mahamed (Peter Haynes; Southampton) secured a third consecutive Euro Cross team medal, finishing 17 seconds behind Cairess in 17th to ensure a silver medal, with Oliver Fox (Richard Llewellyn Eaton; Wells City) two places and one second behind.
The women’s event saw Amy Griffiths (Rob Denmark; Aldershot, Farnham & District) in the top three for long spells, before slipping to a seventh place finish in 21:04. Poppy Tank (Simon Anderson; City of Plymouth) and Abbie Donnelly (Rob Lewis; Lincoln Wellington) concluded the scoring with ninth and 17th position, cutting the tape at 21:05 and 21:19 respectively.
The mixed relay event saw Great Britain & Northern Ireland pipped to a medal, coming home in 16:24. Jess Judd (Mick Judd; Blackburn) could not make up ground in the race for the medals and was edged in the final 150m. Jamie Williamson (George Gandy; Springburn) slipped on the opening leg, but excellent efforts from Alex Bell (Andrew Henderson; Pudsey & Bramley) and Phil Sesemann (Andrew Henderson; Leeds City AC) saw the team recover well.