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team title for aviva GB & NI in edinburgh

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Emelia Gorecka
Emelia Gorecka takes the junior women's title for the Aviva GB & NI team

07 January 2012

The Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland team took the Bupa Great Edinburgh International Cross Country Challenge title in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh today (Saturday 7 January), defeating the USA and a European Select to continue the current success of UK endurance running.

The highlight of the day from a British perspective came from European junior cross country champion Emelia Gorecka (coach: Mick Woods), who once again gave a dominant and quality display of cross country running when winning the only individual title of the day in the junior women’s event.

Race reports, in the order they happened, are below:

Junior Men (6km, three long laps)

Kieran Clements (Steve Benson) set a high standard for the Aviva GB & NI team with a second place finish in the junior men’s 6km event, the opening race of the day.

Clements - ninth in the European (junior) Cross Country Championships and recent winner of Belgium’s Lotto Cross Cup - forced his way through to the front at the half-way point of the first lap, but was soon caught by Kirubel Erassa of the USA, the eventual winner in 19:56, who moved into the lead.

Looking for points from the top four finishers it was close to call at the front with three USA and three Brits in the lead pack.

Mark Shaw (Steve Shaw) was the lead Brit after the opening two laps and at one point looked a major contender for the title, but he was working hard in isolation and into a tough wind.

He was followed by Clements three metres behind, with the all-important third and fourth team places taken by Gordon Benson (Phillip Townsend) and Charlie Grice (Jon Bigg) in the top ten.

Clements and Shaw - now working together in a bid to pull in Erassa - couldn’t overturn his lead but powered off the downhill to the last 400m to finish in second (19:57) and third (19:59) respectively.

Elsewhere in the field, the USA packed well, while Jack Goodwin (Simon Goodwin) finished in ninth in 20:22 and Grice in a credible 13th (20:42) to make up the British scoring quartet.

Robbie Farnham-Rose (Mark Hookway) and debutant Gordon Benson (Phillip Townsend) finished in 17th (20:54) and 18th (20:56) respectively.

 “I didn’t come into it in the best shape, but I think I could have had him (Kirubel Erassa of USA) if there was another 100m, but I’m happy with second,” said runner-up Clements.

“Shaw (Mark Shaw) and I didn’t plan to work together but we did and it worked well during the race. It was good to have someone to run with.

“The course is surprisingly fast. I thought it would be muddy, hilly and really slow, but it went out really fast. I surprised me how fast it was, I was expecting a slow, boggy, Belgium-esque kind of running but it was quick.” 

Junior Women (4km, two long laps)

European junior cross country champion Emelia Gorecka (Mick Woods) was once again dominant as she secured the only Aviva GB & NI individual victory of the day in the junior women’s 4km event.

USA’s Erin Finn, the Michigan State Champion, took an early lead and was soon 30m clear, but she was working hard into the strong wind while Gorecka was tucked in well behind a group of four chasing Americans who were packing well.

As the leaders passed St Margaret’s Loch and into the first major incline up towards Haggis Knowe - the landmark point on the Holyrood Park course - Gorecka hit the front with Finn falling back into third, now passed by US junior cross country champion Aisling Cuffe who was leading a USA quartet in second to fifth position.

At the bell, Gorecka’s lead was extending further and as she moved through onto the far side of the course it had grown to at least 30m with her team mates packing well behind her, led by Aviva GB & NI debutants Iona Lake (Tim/Pauline Ash) and Poppy Blake (Stephen Williams), although Scottish athlete Louisa Stewart, representing Scotland East, was making her presence felt and eventually finished in ninth - the third Brit, although not a scoring athlete - in 15:40.

Gorecka was never challenged in the later stages and won the 4km race by 21 seconds in 14:48 ahead of USA’s Cuffe in second (15:09) and Molly Seidel in third (15:16).

Lake was the second scoring Brit in fifth overall (15:27) followed by Laura Muir (Alan Mackintosh) in 10th (15:40) and Grace Baker in 11th (15:43), while Amy Griffiths (Mick Woods) and Blake, both credited with 15:45 in 12th and 13th respectively, completed the well-packed squad of athletes.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in myself now,” said Gorecka, who is also the European Junior 5000m silver medallist. “I’ve also got the belief and confidence that Mick (her coach, Mick Woods) has given me the right race plan, and he has the belief that I can execute it.”

“I was going with how I felt, and a lap in I felt I could really take it on and I did that, although I was already starting to build a natural gap. I thought “let’s just do this”. I wanted to have the best race possible. I had a smile on my face during that and I enjoyed it a lot more than in the snow last year, although the wind was really tough!”

Senior Men (8km, four long laps)

With nine runners in each team and just six in each to score in the 8km senior men’s race, it was set to be a small and very competitive elite field.

The first lap saw the lead Brit change from Steve Vernon (David Turnbull), who went on to double up with a ninth place finish in the invitational 3km, closely followed by Ryan McLeod (John Nuttall) and McCain Bristol Cross Challenge winner Frank Tickner (Self).

As the race came round to the second lap, the Aviva GB & NI team packed together well, as they did at the European Cross Country Championships where they secured an unexpected team silver, occupying five successive places behind the lead trio.

With one lap to go the USA were leading on points and the Brits needed to continue their charge and gain places. Tickner, who had been disappointed with his performance at the European Cross Country Championships, made up for that as he overtook Javier Guerra in the European Team to take fifth place in 25:55, and Vernon kept his form in seventh for 26:00 as they crossed the finishing line.

Tom Humphries (Phil Clamp) followed in eighth position (26:07) and Jonathan Taylor (Gordon Surtees) completed his international debut with a tenth place finish in 26:13.

Working together down the field, James Walsh (Mike Baxter), James Wilkinson (Phil Townsend) and Derek Hawkins (Lawrie Spence) finished in 16th (26:45), 17th (26:48) and 18th (26:50) respectively, while McLeod was devastated to slip on the second lap after being in contention early in the race and finished 21st in 27:13.

“I’m really surprised with my performance today, given how poorly I ran in Slovenia,” said Tickner. “Maybe I just needed just that bit extra as I did in Bristol (referring back to his race at the McCain Bristol Cross Challenge).The Europeans were two or three steps up from that and was a bit of a culture shock, but this race seemed to go really well.

“I’m very pleased to reverse that last race in Slovenia, and with this being first performance this year, I couldn’t really ask for much more even though I couldn’t quite catch the leading group.

“I had a very busy three weeks over the Christmas period, and tapered down this week, which went very well; now I’m looking forward to the Southern Cross Country Championships at the end of the month, so I will figure out if I am going to run between then and now, so we’ll see.”

Senior Women (6km, three long laps)

In a virtual repeat of the Spar European Cross Country Championships - minus runner up Anna Dulce Felix of Portugal - Ireland’s brilliant champion Fionnuala Britton once again took victory, with Gemma Steel (coach: John Nuttall), bronze medallist in Slovenia, finishing a clear second for the Aviva GB & NI team.

Steel, with her fellow European Cross gold-medal winning team mates Hatti Dean (Bud Baldaro) and Freya Murray (Steve Jones), went straight to the front from the gun with the diminutive Britton sitting comfortably alongside them.

European under-23 fourth place finisher Stephanie Twell (coach: Mick Woods) was also in the mix and went with the leaders when they made a break from the pack after the first kilometre.

As they approached the first major incline of the 6km course Steel and Britton were now clear, but from the important team challenge perspective, Naomi Taschimowtiz (Charlotte Fisher) and Elle Baker (Dave Turnbull) had latched onto the back of the lead group to ensure the Brits were in with a fighting chance.

Britton made her break with just under two laps to go and the gap continued to grow back to Steel to ensure she took the most convincing win of the day in 21:32 with Steel in second (21:52). Baker put in an outstanding last lap to come through into third, clocking 22:08 ahead of USA’s Neely Spence in fourth (22:11), while Scotland’s Murray was third Brit and fifth overall in 22:17.

Dean was the fourth scoring athlete in sixth (22:29) with Hannah Walker (Bud Baldaro) and Twell completing the points in eighth (22:33) and ninth (22:37) respectively.

European under-23 silver medallist Taschimowitz dropped back to 13th (22:53), Rosie Smith (Max Coleby) finished 18th (23:18) and Amy Campbell (Bill Foster) 23rd (23:52).

“I felt really comfortable in the first lap but it was so slow,” said Steel. “I really wanted to give myself a chance to win it, but when Fionnuala broke away it took me by surprise.

“The last lap felt really hard but I just need to work a bit on my speed. Finnuala is in the form of her life so I can’t complain really.”

Baker -14th overall at the European Cross and delighted to finish in a podium position on this occasion -said: “I was a bit worried about the course with so many different parts to it and the obstacles, but I enjoyed it and it really helped me keep my focus.

“I knew I had some really good training over Christmas and I felt ok with a lap to go so I just went for it.”

Overall result:

1st: Aviva GB & NI team: 144 points

2nd: USA: 196

3rd: European Select: 215

Non-team event: Men’s 3km

European junior track 5000m bronze medallist Jonny Hay (Mick Woods) took some world class scalps and put in a brilliant finish to take second in the high quality senior men’s 3km invitational event.

World 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop of Kenya won the race in 09:20 with Hay second in 09:25 ahead of Eliud Kipchoge in third (09:26).

“It went off quite slowly but I just sat in there with them,” he said. “I could hear Mick (his coach, Mick Woods) all around the course which gave me a real confidence boost. When I came off the final downhill into the home straight I was getting faster and faster and I thought “I’ve just got to for it now!”

Also on the day, East Kilbride AC’s Tartan Army were rewarded in recognition of their continued support of the Aviva GB & NI cross country teams at World and European Cross Country Championships.

UKA's Head of Endurance Ian Stewart arranged for BBC commentator Brendan Foster to present the senior men’s team award from the recent Euro Cross in Velenje, Slovenia to the EKAC group.

Their travels have taken them to a total of 15 countries including World Cross events in Belfast, Dublin, Lausanne, Brussels, St Etienne, Fukuoka, Mombasa, Edinburgh, Amman, Bydgoszcz, Punta Umbria and Euro Cross events in Edinburgh, Tilburg, Milano San Giorgio, Toro, Brussels, Dublin, Albufeira and Velenje.

There have been many highlights throughout the years including attending numerous post race banquets, both officially and unofficially, and even being invited to the 2005 25th anniversary London Marathon by Race Director David Bedford.

Kenny Clements of EKAC said: “It is an honour to receive this award from the GB & NI team management as athletics is something that we feel passionately about, being - and having been - competing athletes ourselves. We will always put our full support behind our dedicated cross country teams”.