Jonathan Davies (coach: Rob McKim) won gold in the U23 men’s race as every member of the British Athletics’ team won medals and topped the medal table for the 13th consecutive year at the European Cross Country Championships in Hyères, France.
Davies produced an inspired display to win the U23 men’s race as the squad also claimed Team Silver. He was in the leading pack for most of the race but over the final kilometre, a group of three pulled away from the field and the Birmingham-based athlete ignited a sprint finish to claim European gold.
Davies said: “I’m over the moon; I came in thinking I had a chance of winning but you never quite believe it. I just stuck to my race plan, got out hard and I found myself in the lead for the first two laps, which wasn’t planned. The thing was the pace was so slow and there was no wind so it was just as easy as sitting in and keeping out of trouble for a little bit. So I just stuck there – it got harder between laps 3 and 5 and I just stayed in contention.”
The Reading athlete added: “There was a point where I felt my concentration go for a little bit, but I just thought ‘No, you keep back in, stay in contention and you’ve got a good chance’ and when I got to the last lap I thought I’ve got a very good chance of winning this. I just stayed patient and thankfully the German guy went and I could just follow him round.”
The team were narrowly edged out of the gold medal position with just two points separating them and the Spanish. However, Marc Scott (Steve Gulley) 4th, Richard Goodman (Mick Woods) 11th, Henry Pearce (George Gandy) 25th, Jacob Allen (Woods) 32nd, Luke Traynor (Dudley Walker) 41st followed up Davies’ strong performance to claim the silver.
In the senior women’s race, Kate Avery (Tony Simmons) replicated her silver medal triumph from 2014 but under different circumstances this time around, producing a strong final lap to reach the podium following a dominant Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands.
Avery spoke afterwards: “I got silver last year but I have had a very different build-up this time. I didn’t expect to be here, so I came into the race not knowing what to expect and I am thrilled to come away with a silver medal. I’ve finished behind an amazing athlete in Sifan Hassan so there isn’t much more I could have asked for there.”
The experienced senior women retained their Team Gold medal with Steph Twell (Woods) finishing fifth on her 11th appearance at the Championships, reigning champion Gemma Steel (John Nuttall) in eighth, Lauren Howarth (Steve Vernon) 17th, Sonia Samuels (Self-coached) 22nd and Elle Vernon (Vernon) in 27th.
Laura Muir (Andy Young) led the U23 women’s team to Britain’s 50th gold medal in the history of the European Cross Country Championships, claiming fourth place in the race behind Belgian winner, Louise Carton. Muir faded in the closing stages after leading earlier in the race with fellow Scot Madeleine Murray (John Lees) earning 10th place on her international debut.
Muir commented on the Team Gold: “I’m really proud of the girls, they all ran really great. It’s a team effort as much as individual at these Championships, so I’m chuffed for them all to get the gold.”
Jenny Nesbitt (David Walker), also making her debut in a British vest was 13th followed by Rebecca Murray (Alex Stanton) in 14th. Cheltenham’s Beth Hawling (Matt Richards) backed up her strong performance at the Trials in Liverpool last month to claim 21st place with Calli Thackery (Joe Franklin) 25th to round off the first golden triumph of the day.
Harriet Knowles-Jones (Paul Roden) won a stunning silver medal in the junior women’s race, coming home behind a fast finishing Konstanze Klosterhalfen of Germany. The 17-year-old has enjoyed a breakthrough season and added European silver to her fourth place in the 1500m at the IAAF World Youth Championships. She was in the leading group from start to finish and bravely pushed the pace over the final lap.
The delighted Knowles-Jones said afterwards: “I really did not expect that, it was brilliant. On the final lap, I felt nothing was happening in our group so I pushed it on. We had a few obstacles to try and slow us down again but I was pleased how I dealt with them.”
The Warrington athlete added: “Everyone has been great on the team and it has been such a good weekend; this is the perfect way to finish it. I’ve got a few more years left in this age-group so I will hopefully come back next year and try to go one step better.
The junior women’s squad also earned team silver behind Germany. Bobby Clay (Rob Denmark) was the second counter for the British team, finishing fifth overall, Sabrina Sinha (Peter Mullervy) 11th, Mari Smith (William Alan Winter) 22nd, Amy Griffiths (Woods) 38th and Grace Baker (Woods) 44th.
It was a bronze medal triumph for the senior men’s team, claiming a place on the rostrum with 78 points behind Spain and France. The sextet were led home by team captain Tom Lancashire (Vernon) who had a superb final 200m, moving up several positions to secure 15th position, one place ahead of training partner Ross Millington (Vernon). Welshman Dewi Griffiths (Kevin Evans) was next home in 20th with Jonny Taylor (Gordon Surtees) closely following in 27th. Adam Hickey (Eamonn Martin) was 42nd with Jonny Hay (Woods) the sixth counter in 56th.
The junior men claimed team bronze after valiant effort from the team which saw all six athletes finish within the top 31. After setting the pace early on, Alex Yee (Kenneth Pike) ran a well-paced race to finish ninth on his European Cross debut. Another member of the World Youth squad in Cali earlier this year, the 17-year-old was followed by Christopher Olley (Mark Hookway) in 17th, Ben Dijkstra (Alan Maddocks) in 19th and Mahamed Mahamed (Peter Haynes) in 22nd. Joe Steward (Harry Kelly), who competed at the IAAF World Cross Championships in March, was 27th with Cambridge student Oliver Fox (Richard Llewelyn Eaton) crossing the line in 31st.
Neil Black, the British Athletics Performance Director said afterwards: “It has been another encouraging European Cross Country Championships for our athletes. It’s pleasing to see every member of the team win a medal and finish top of the medal table for the 13th consecutive year.
“There has been a tremendous team atmosphere over the last few days and that has been reflected in their performances today.”
British Athletics medal table at the 22nd European Cross Country Championships:
Gold: Jonathan Davies – U23 Men
Gold: U23 Women’s team
Gold: Senior Women’s team
Silver: Kate Avery – Senior Women
Silver: Harriet Knowles-Jones – Junior Women
Silver: U23 Men’s team
Silver: Junior Women’s team
Bronze: Senior Men’s team
Bronze: Junior Men’s team
Highlights can be found on BBC Two from 16:15-17:20 on Sunday 13 December.