The British team won ten medals including three gold for the senior men’s, U23 women’s and U20 women’s teams at another highly successful edition of the European Cross Country Championships in Chia, Italy with every athlete winning a medal.
Callum Hawkins (Robert Hawkins) won bronze in the senior men’s race as the team won an excellent team gold, the first time they have taken the gold since 1999. The 9th placer in the Olympic marathon started with great intent, as he and Andrew Butchart (Derek Easton) took on the field and led for a long stretch of the race.
Alongside the Turkish athletes (Aras Kaya and Polat Kemboi Arikan) who eventually won gold and silver, the British duo endeavoured to push on in the early laps to consolidate at least one individual medal for the team. As the laps went on, Hawkins’ strength shone through and he ultimately achieved the individual honour.
Hawkins said afterwards: “I got out a lot better than I thought I would – I thought I’d be chasing but I saw Andy [Butchart] take it on and I thought ‘I’ll do it with him’. He almost got me – I fell off a bit about 4 laps in – but I managed to get it together. I wasn’t a fan of the mounds on the course; I felt like I was losing time over them, but when I got back on the flats it was about trying to break the two Turks, but they were too strong for me. They got a gap on me going into the second long lap and I held up, but I didn’t have the gears to get back on.”
Speaking on the strength of the senior men’s team, Hawkins said: “I think that is the strongest senior men’s team we’ve had, maybe ever. We have four Olympians – in our top four we had a sub 13:10 guy (5000m), a sub 61 guy (half marathon) and two sub 28 guys (10km). It is a really strong team and we are really pleased to come out with the gold.”
Reflecting on his year, he added: “2016 has been the best year of my life – at this point last year when I was trying to get the Olympic qualifying time; I could never had imagine all this would have happened. 9th in the Olympics, running sub 61 (Half Marathon) and a medal here – the last few months have just been incredible.”
Butchart held on for fourth place with Andy Vernon (Nic Bideau) showing his fine pacing to strongly finish in fifth place. Ben Connor (Spencer Duval) enjoyed one of the performances of his career as he finished as the fourth counter in 16th to secure the gold medal. Experienced international Dewi Griffiths (Kevin Evans) crossed the line 18th and Ross Millington (Steve Vernon) was 32nd to complete a strong effort all round.
The senior women’s team grabbed the silver medal to maintain their impressive medal-winning record at these championships. The team, which contained a number of debutants on the international cross country scene, were led home by the experienced Steph Twell (Mick Woods) in fifth who rounded off a great year for her individually.
Twell was part of an almighty battle for the bronze after the Turkish gold and silver medallists pushed forward early on leaving a group of five to enjoy a topsy turvy race. The Aldershot Farnham & District athlete has an outstanding record at the Euro Cross and placed highly once more on the fast and flat course.
2014 European cross gold medallist Gemma Steel (Rob Denmark) was a commendable 12th, with Katrina Wootton (Harvey Rose) returning to the GB fold to cross the line in 16th. Pippa Woolven (Luke Gunn), Charlotte Arter (James Thie) and Emily Hosker-Thornhill (Mick Woods), all making their first appearances at the Championships, worked admirably to finish in 17th, 43rd and 57th positions respectively to make sure the team earned the silver.
Alice Wright (Joe Franklin) endured a battle for bronze with teammate Charlotte Taylor (Helen Lehman-Winters) in the U23 women’s race, with the Worcester athlete just pulling away during the last lap to earn her place on the podium. Both ran in the NCAA Championships a few weeks ago, and were back on top form in Sardinia, helping the team to the gold medal. Backed up by Rebecca Murray (Alex Stanton) in 7th, Jess Judd (Mick Judd) 12th, Mari Smith (William Alan Winter) 25th and Georgina Outten (Andrew Walling) 42nd, the team added another medal to the tally.
A beaming Wright commented post-race: “I thought I was in for fourth place so I am delighted to get the bronze medal. You always want to win but to get a medal is just amazing. It really finishes off my season perfectly – I came here with a point to prove after disappointment in my last race so hopefully I have done that.”
The men’s U23 team claimed the bronze medal with last year’s winner Jonny Davies (Rob McKim) placing fifth this time around in an incredibly fast-paced race. The Reading AC athlete led a group of seven heading into the final long lap but a fierce acceleration of pace had a significant impact on the medal positions.
European Junior 5000m champion Alex George (Paul de-Camps) worked hard to finish 13th, Ellis Cross (Mick Woods) 15th, and Alex Short (Philip O’Dell) was the final counter for the team in 25th. Two debutants to the international scene Will Christofi (David Bedwell) and Patrick Dever (Andy Bibby) completed the race in 33rd and 49th respectively.
After winning silver in the U20 race last year, there was further medal success for Harriet Knowles-Jones (Paul Roden) as she claimed bronze in same age-group at the 2016 edition. After two short laps of around 500m each, the race really got going on the first long lap when the German Konstanze Klosterhaulfen injected the pace to string out the field. The Warrington athlete dropped ground on the German, but alongside the Danish athlete Anna Emilie Moller, she maintained her place in the medals positions.
Knowles-Jones said afterwards: “It is amazing to win the bronze here – it was completely different to last year. The German girl (Konstanze Klosterhaulfen) just went today and that really strung the field out. I had to dig in as it was quite a change of pace.
“Last year was a complete shock, I never dreamed of winning a medal but it was more nerve-wracking this time as there was more expectation but I guess it has given me confidence.”
Further to the individual success in the U20 women’s race, the team also won a superb gold medal after some fine performances. Debutants Amelia Quirk (Beverley Kitching) and Victoria Weir (Simon Anderson) made impressive starts to their international careers, bagging 9th and 10th spot respectively, with Gemma Holloway (Brenda Stone) the final counter in 11th, and Phoebe Law (Mick Woods) 22nd.
Knowles-Jones added: “I am so proud of the girls – Amelia (Quirk) is so young but she has been very calming for the team and just taken everything in her stride. The same goes for Victoria (Weir); it was a great performance on her debut for GB. We’ve got a great group of girls and I couldn’t be prouder.”
In the U20 men’s race, Mahamed Mahamed (Peter Haynes) won his first major medal taking a hard-earned bronze medal. He moved with conviction at the halfway stage with the Italian Yohanes Chiappinelli to consolidate a podium spot. Although the Norwegian Jakob Ingebrigtsen marched through to take gold over the last lap, the Southampton athlete captured a popular bronze for the British team.
Mahamed spoke afterwards: “It was really really important to kick out smoothly [from the pack] and I did. I couldn’t pace for the silver medal, but I’m so happy with the bronze. I thought when I caught him [Chiappinelli, the Italian who took silver] that I could get rid of him, but he kept coming back. It was a fight together, but I’m happy with bronze.”
He was also part of the bronze medal winning U20 men’s team, aided by Alex Yee (Kenneth Pike) who finished 11th despite a fall early on, Josh Kerr (Joe Franklin) 14th, Paulos Surafel (Craig Winrow) 15th, Will Fuller (George Gandy) 30th and Sam Stevens (Alan Maddocks) 50th.
Team Leader, Spencer Duval commented afterwards on the whole team’s performance: “We have a strong tradition at these Championships and we showed that once again today. We have some formidable teams here which can be seen by the fact that every team won a medal, including three golds.
“It is very encouraging to see that every athlete on the team has earned a medal and that cross country continues to be so strong in the UK.”
Highlights can be seen on BBC Two between 15:50-16:50 on Sunday 11 December.
British Athletics medal table (10):
Senior Men – Team Gold
U23 Women Team – Gold
U20 Women Team – Gold
Senior Women Team – Silver
Callum Hawkins (Senior Men) – Bronze
Alice Wright (U23 Women) – Bronze
U23 Men Team – Bronze
Harriet Knowles-Jones (U20 Women) – Bronze
Mahamed Mahamed (U20 Men) – Bronze
U20 Men Team – Bronze