A great victory this afternoon for Kilcoole’s Fionnuala Britton was one of the highlights of the 18th SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Velenje, Slovenia.
After finishing fourth in this race last year, Fionnuala, ran away with the race from the half-way mark and was never seriously threatened, clinching Ireland’s second senior women’s gold medal in the history of these championships.
Portugal’s Dulce Felix was second with Britain’s Gemma Steel securing bronze.
After 1km a group of nine had already formed including Britton, Felix and Italian hope Nadia Ejjafini who was to look like a possible medallist for over half of the race before she was to pay for her effort to finish just out of the medals.
At 2km in 6:35, it was Britton in the lead from Felix and Ejjafini with Turkey’s silver medallist from last year, Binnaz Uslu, in attendance.
After nine minutes of running a group of three containing Britton, Felix and Ejjafini had broken away with Uslu dropping back and destined to drop out.
With three laps to go, Steel had moved into fourth and set about reducing the gap to the leaders.
At this stage, it was Felix who appeared to be having difficulty as Britton and Ejjafini opened up a slight gap on the Portuguese.
After 15 minutes of running, Steel was now in third and going away from Felix and making clear inroads on the leading duo.
Up front Britton was making Ejjafini suffer while Steel was gaining in confidence.
Half way round the penultimate lap, Steel slipped into second with Ejjafini starting to struggle.
Coming up to the bell-lap, Britton was gamely holding off Steel and the gap of 30m did not appear to be closing.
There was another gap to Ejjafini as Felix was getting her second wind and moving into third six seconds down on the Irishwoman.
Any sign that the Irishwoman might falter was dispelled in the final lap as Britton summoned her forces for the final push while Steel was suffering for her effort to get on equal terms with the leader and finally had to settle for bronze.
A delighted Fionnuala later commented: “”I can hardly believe it. That was the plan (to make the running) from that start and I knew I had to it. After last year, this is the only medal I wanted. In a ways, it’s been on my mind for the whole year.”
It was Ireland’s second win in the event – Catherina McKiernan having won the inaugural title in 1994.
The team race was won by Great Britain with 42 points, nine ahead of Portugal with Germany third on the same number of points as France with 83.