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aviva gb and ni top euro cross medal table again

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Charlie Purdue
Charlotte Purdue wins European Cross Country gold

12 December 2010

The Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland team - spearheaded by Charlotte Purdue’s (coach: Mick Woods) individual gold - was once again the dominant force at today’s SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Albufeira, Portugal (Sunday 12 December), topping the medal table for the third successive year with four gold, one silver and two bronze.

While it wasn’t a clean sweep of medals on this occasion, the immense talent of Purdue was once again evident as the 2008 European Cross Country Championships silver medallist took gold in the junior women’s 3970m race - the opening race of the day - to set the benchmark.

The diminutive and spirited Aldershot, Farnham and District athlete, fourth in the Commonwealth Games 10,000m and UK junior record holder over the distance, had finished on the podium in two previous editions of the European Cross Country Championships with bronze in Toro (2007) and silver in Brussels (2008). Only injury prevented her improving that record 12 months ago in Dublin.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” she said after bursting clear with a lap to go to secure an emphatic 17-second victory (12:42) and lead the Aviva GB & NI junior women to team gold. “I was third in Toro and Steph (Steph Twell) won, and I was second in Belgium and Steph won again. I was injured last year and I was so disappointed to sit and watch it on TV.

“I’ve been focusing on European Cross since Delhi and I’d have been disappointed with anything but gold. Mick (Purdue’s coach, Mick Woods) said to me before the start: “There’s a medal there with your name on it,” and that was going through my mind right through the race.”

Russia’s 2009 silver medallist Gulshat Fazlitdinova lived up to her tag as one of the pre-race favourites as she took the early lead with Aviva GB & NI’s Lily Partridge (coach: Liz McColgan), Purdue, Emelia Gorecka (coach: Mick Woods) - the eventual bronze medallist - and Kate Avery (coach: Bob Ashwood) packed inside the top 20, but the race soon took shape as Purdue and Gorecka, with Partridge chasing, forced their way through into the top ten.

It was Purdue’s race though, and over the course of the final mile her lead increased ahead of second-placed Amela Terzic (Serbia) with every step: “That last lap was awesome,” she added. “I just wanted to have as big a lead as possible!”

She made it sound like fun and to the large crowd in attendance it most definitely looked that way.

Making it two from three on the podium, Gorecka, runner up to Purdue in the UK Trial race, took a well-deserved bronze (13:00):  “I suppose I was quite sensible at the start but I just couldn’t get a clear route out. I followed Charlie because I thought she’d get out there ok but we both got caught up. I didn’t push too early but once I was in a medal position I didn’t want to let it go.”

“I’m only 16 and I’ve got another couple of years at this event - I want to make the progression Charlie has made.”

In addition to Purdue and Gorecka, the scoring positions were filled by Partridge in ninth place (13:19) and Annabel Gummow (coach: Chris Wooldridge) in 10th (13:19) – the latter moving through the field with confidence on the last lap to take the fourth spot, with Avery 12th (13:24) and Georgia Peel (coach: Mick Woods) 27th (13:55).

Aldershot, Farnham and District – and in particular coach Mick Woods – enjoyed further individual medal success as Emma Pallant took bronze in the under-23 women’s 6070m race to win her first major international cross country medal.

The field had spread out early with Meryem Erdogen (Turkey) - having led from 1km - racing to the title (20:08). Pallant - leading the team to gold and maintaining the under-23's unbeaten record since the inauguration of the age group event in 2006 - endured a relentless battle with Spain’s Cristina Jordan for second, but the Spaniard eventually broke her and she was content to settle for third (20:28).

“It was so good (to win an individual medal and be part of the scoring team),” said Trials’ winner Pallant who is now looking ahead to a solid block of training at the UKA/London Marathon altitude camp in Kenya in January. “We won team gold in Belgium but I wasn’t part of the scoring team and then there was a bit of expectation on us after the juniors…

“Mick (her coach, Mick Woods) told me to finish strongly and he told me to stay relaxed at the start. After the start and it had settled down I felt that I was strong and relaxed. The Spaniard broke me on the hill but I was working hard – I didn’t want anyone else to come by me.”

Concluding the scoring quartet were seventh-placed Natalie Gray (coach: Bill Foster/Joe Franklin) – 15th in the NCAA Cross Country Championships – in 20:43, Emily Pidgeon (coach: Andy Hobdell) in 16th (20:55) and Gray’s US training partner and flatmate Sarah Waldron (coach: Dave Sunderland) in 21st (21:16). Elspeth Curran (coach: Lawrie Spence) was 24th (21:20) and Imogen Ainsworth (coach: Keith Brackstone) was 29th (21:34).

The Aviva GB & NI junior men couldn’t match the junior girls’ individual medal tally but with five inside the top 23 - four of whom were making their international debuts - they ensured their team spot on top of the podium for the second year in succession.

Ryan Saunders (coach: Mick Woods) was first Brit home in 10th (18:27), an outstanding result after being caught and tripped in a pile up which saw him well off the pace in 56th position in the early stages of the 6070m race.

“I’m absolutely chuffed,” said the fourth place finisher in the UK Trials.”I knew a top ten place was realistic but I when I found myself so far down the field I just had to stick at it and focus on picking up on every lap.”

The more experienced Jonny Hay (coach: Mick Woods) had hoped to finish higher than 14th (18:32) but he epitomised the great team spirit by holding on when he started to suffer and was passed by Saunders. “Mitch (Goose) was shouting at me from the side of the course to stick in for the team and there was never any doubt about that,” he said.

Saunders and Hay were joined in the scoring quartet by Trials winner John McDonnell (coach: John Stoker) and Andy Combs (coach: Mark Hookway/Mick Woods) in 16th (18:34) and 22nd (18:41) respectively. Non-scoring, but impressive on their debuts, were Ben Connor (coach: Jerry Hall) in 23rd (18:42) and Robbie Farnham-Rose (coach: Mark Hookway) in 46th (19:10). The fact that the top 12 athletes represented 12 different nations perhaps contributed to their Aviva GB & NI team success, but it was no less of an outstanding result.

There was an excellent team silver for the senior women as Hatti Dean (coach: Bud Baldaro) finished seventh over the 8170m course to lead the way (27:08).

“I ran the same pace the whole way but they just came back to me,” said Dean who moved from 33rd to 15th on the first large lap. “I wanted to stay in control for the first mile but also to stay in contact with the leaders; it was definitely a gradual process! When I passed the Brits and started to move through I could see the leaders and that really pushed me on.”

Backing her up in the scoring positions were Louise Damen (self-coached) in 17th (27:52), Stephanie Twell (coach: Mick Woods) in 20th (27:57) and Helen Clitheroe (coach: John Nuttall) in 21st (28:02), while Gemma Steel (coach: Roy Stowell) and Hayley Yelling-Higham (coach: Conrad Milton) finished inside the top 30 in 27th (28:25) and 28th (28:25) respectively.

And while the senior men missed out on a team medal in fifth, Tom Humphries (coach: Phil Champ) celebrated a return to competitive international action over the 9870m course with a 15th place finish (29:43)

“I’ve had almost two years out of the sport and I’m so glad to be back,” he said. “The pace felt ok but I know that now I’m injury free, when I’m back to my 2008 form it can get even better. I just enjoyed being there. When I’m running well like that I just love the moment; it was happy running. I’m so proud of this team; we used to do internationals together as under-20s and we’ve all moved through so it was great to be part of it.”

UK Trials winner Andy Vernon (coach: Nick Anderson) was hugely disappointed to pull out on the fourth lap with stomach cramps.

Behind Humphries, the men’s finishing positions were: Phil Nicholls (coach: Bud Baldaro) in 18th (29:47), Ryan McLeod (coach: John Nuttall) 29th (30:08), Mark Draper (coach: Andy Hobdell) 37th (30:26) and Frank Tickner (coach: Clive Thomas) in 48th (30:50).

The under-23 men did well to finish fourth after Trials winner James Wilkinson (coach: Phil Townsend) was also forced to drop out early in the race. Having suffering from a slight temperature since arriving in Portugal he made the brave decision to start “to have a go for the team”, but paid the price for his commitment and stepped off the course in the first large lap.

Ricky Stevenson (coach: Steve Shaw) was the first Aviva GB & NI team athlete home in ninth (24:34) after a confident performance on the fast course. “I couldn’t ask for a lot more,” said the New Marske Harrier who was amongst the leaders within the final third of the 8170m race. “Every time I go out in the team vest I give it my best shot. The pace was never a problem although I started to suffer a bit coming into the last lap and I just couldn’t respond, but overall I felt good. It was a fast course and I think it probably suited me more as a track runner than it did the other guys.”

Mitch Goose (coach: Tim/Pauline Ash) was 22nd (25:01), Nick Goolab (coach: Steve Sharp) 25th (25:04), Derek Hawkins (coach: Lawrie Spence) 48th (25:34) and Ashley Harrell (coach: Tim/Pauline Ash) 68th (25:55).

Ian Stewart, Aviva GB & NI Team Leader and UKA’s Head of Endurance, said: “We’ve had a day of peaks and troughs, but overall it’s been a fantastic day. It’s great we’ve topped the medal table again to keep the pressure on.

“Charlie Purdue was brilliant, as were the junior boys and I’m delighted for Emma Pallant winning her first major international cross medal. The senior women also did well to win team silver. I was disappointed in the under-23 and senior men, but they lost their main players and they are tough boys, so we know they weren’t right.

“It’s onwards and upwards now. All in all if you top the medal table you’ve got to be pleased with that.”

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For full results, check out the European Athletics website.