Wicklow’s Fionnuala Britton, the winner for the past two years, came tantalisingly close to a place on the podium yet again at the 20th Spar European Cross Country Championships in Belgrade yesterday.
The race was fast and furious from the start with Karoline Bjerkeli of Norway breaking away at the early stages. The Norwegian was reeled back in at the halfway mark by the chasing pack of quality championships performers including Britton, Dulce Felix (Portugal), Gemma Steel (Great Britain), Sophie Duarte (France), Julia Bleasdale (Great Britain) and Almensch Belete of Belgium.
Duarte then began to exert her presence moving away from the field with Felix and Steel battling it out behind and Britton in fourth who continued to try to get back into a medal contention spot. It was to be the French Women’s Duarte’s day and she took the title in 26.34 from Steel in second and Felix in third with Britton fourth in 26.45.
Britton who had missed the summer season due to illness spoke after the race : “I came here to take the title, I felt it was my race as much as anyone’s. I never felt comfortable and I was trying to reel the girls (Felix and Steel) back but there were driving each other on. It was very frustrating. I was there to challenge for a medal but they were just better on the day”
The rest of the women’s team battled hard but were missing three of the top scorers from last year’s winning team and finished in sixth place. Sarah Treacy improved on her 42nd place from last year to finish 31st followed by Ciara Durkan in 36th and Sarah Mulligan a late call up finishing in 44th completing the scorers. Ann-Marie McGlynn in her first major senior championships finished a solid 49th and Dublin Marathon winner Maria McCambridge came home in 55th place.
The Senior Men’s Team also finished in sixth place. The team bunched well with two top 20 finishes; Michael Mulhare in 15th and David McCarthy in 18th. Both of were members of the U23 Gold Medallist team from 2010 and delivered very heartening performances with Mulhare improving on his 44th place from 2012 and McCarthy delivering in his first competition at Senior level
The Men’s U23 Team were battling for a podium position throughout the race but finished in a highly commendable fourth place with 120 points. The team were in third place throughout but faded to fourth in the last lap. Great Britain won with 40 points, Ukraine second with 72 points and France third with 78 points. Paul Robinson led the team home putting in a stellar performance to work his way through the field to finish in ninth place.
Chris Jones National Endurance Coach commented: “This is a team of exceptionally talented athletes and given the calibre and quality of the team, we were expecting a finish in the top five and they delivered”
Speaking of the overall Irish performance, Jones said: “We had strong teams here in Belgrade and we just missed out on podium positions with Fionnuala and the Men’s U23 Team finishing fourth. I am delighted with the Senior Men’s team sixth place finish and I feel we can really build on that for next year. The preparations for the team were ideal and we see this as a platform that we can really build on over the next few years to consistently deliver performances.”