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coulson wins european cross gold in hungary

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Jess Coulson wins the European Cross Under-23 women's race
Jess Coulson wins the European Cross Under-23 women's race

09 December 2012

Concluding an incredible 2012 for sport in the UK, Jess Coulson (Mick Woods) won the women’s under-23 gold as the Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland Team topped the medal table for the fifth successive year at today’s SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Budapest, Hungary (9 December).

Coulson won Britain’s only individual gold and successfully defended the title won by Emma Pallant 12 months ago, but in capping another endurance success story, the Aviva GB & NI Team won in total two gold (one individual, one team), three silver (one individual and two team) and five bronze (two individual and three team) for its fourth clean sweep in five years.

Full event reports, in the order they happened, are below.

Junior Women 4km

A thrilling opening race of the day saw Aviva GB & NI’s defending European Junior Cross Champion Emelia Gorecka (Mick Woods) share an exciting, topsy-turvy battle with Serbia’s World Junior 1500m silver medallist Amela Terzic, with Gorecka eventually bringing home silver in 13:37 after a decisive break away by the Serbian on the final downhill section of the 4km race.

Gorecka led a superb overall gold medal team performance from the British squad, successfully defending the team title that they’ve now won three years in a row.

An impressive run from Wakefield’s mountain running specialist Annabel Mason (John Mason) saw her finish second Brit, fifth overall in 13:47, while eighth-placed English Schools Cross Champion Jenny Walsh (Deborah Rowlands) in 14:01 and World Junior 800m bronze medallist Jessica Judd (Rob Denmark) in 13th (14:09) rounded off the scoring positions.

Alex Clay (Peter Mullervy) finished 19th (14:15) and Rhona Auckland (Joyce Hogg) 23rd (14:24) in their international debuts.

The British delegation had marked their intent from the start, with Gorecka, Judd and Walsh all starting strongly at the front of the pack after the first 500m loop, with Auckland, Clay and Mason all within touching distance.

Gorecka and Terzic then set the tone, pushing each other forward and by the completion of the race’s second small loop, had opened up an eight second gap.

In a thrilling final 1.5km lap, with no other athletes in sight, the defending champion and her challenger exchanged leads on three occasions, before conditions eventually took their toll and the Serbian broke away in the final minute of the race.

Despite coming just short of a second Euro Cross individual gold medal, Gorecka was pleased to have put in a strong performance in icy, hilly conditions.

“Overall I’m very happy and I can’t complain about getting second,” she said. “It was a tough race and I think everyone found it tough today. Everyone was in the same conditions. I felt strong and I did exactly what I was meant to do out there. Down that last hill I had given it my all. [Terzic] was so strong. I just didn’t have the legs. Perhaps on a different course it would have been a different colour medal but I’m happy with the way that I ran it and I was as strong as I could have been.”

Mason, somewhat of a revelation as the youngest member of the GB team, was delighted with her fifth place finish.

“I'm surprised; I didn't expect to do so well. I think if I work on my sprint finishing I can hopefully do better next time. It's been amazing. I've loved it. It's been a great experience.”

Junior Men 6.025km

Kieran Clements (Ricardo Santos) ran a tactically perfect race to finish third (18:57) in the junior men’s 6.025km event, leading the Aviva GB & NI team to bronze.

The race went off at its usual insane pace from the gun, and McCain Liverpool Cross Challenge/European Cross Trials runner-up Charlie Grice (Jon Bigg) was placed well in sixth over the first kilometre, with Trials winner Ian Bailey (Mick Woods), debutant Charlie Hulson (Paul Roden) and Clements packing well behind.

US-based Clements, fourth in the Trial, slowly worked his way through from 15th after a mile through to ninth at half way, and was soon in fourth, with Grice working hard to hold onto the chasing group.

Three started to pull clear at the bell led by Poland’s eventual winner Szymon Kulka and Mitko Tsenov of Bulgaria, but the third athlete - Belgium’s Kimeli - who had literally sprinted to be part of the breakaway trio, dropped off in the last kilometre and Clements moved into third.

“I’m so happy with that, it was the race of my life,” said last year’s ninth place finisher. “I started off fairly conservatively and worked my way through. When the three broke away I couldn’t go with it but I stuck in and was hoping one of them would fall off, I wasn’t sure the guy in third would last.

“I came here really confident. It was always going to be a bonus to get better than last year; to medal was a dream and there it is! I just seem to perform well on the big stage.”

Charlie Grice finished second Brit in ninth (19:02): “I knew the course would be fast so I wanted to be on the back of that lead group in the early stages and conserve some energy. I think I ran out of steam at the end but I gave it my all on that last lap and I’m pleased. It’s not bad for a miler.”

Bailey and Hulson made up the scoring quartet in 18th (19:22) and 24th (19:28) respectively, with Luke Traynor (Dudley Walker) in 38th (19:39) and William Paulson (Chris Frapwell) in 40th (19:42) in their first international.

Under-23 Women 6.025km

A dominant performance by Stockport’s Jess Coulson (Mick Woods) saw her take a resounding victory in the under-23 women’s 6.025km race by over 50 metres in 20:40, in the process defending the gold medal that Great Britain had won the year before in this race courtesy of Emma Pallant.

Coulson’s heroics and a strong all-round performance by the remainder of the British squad secured the Aviva GB & NI team a silver medal, narrowly trailing Russia for gold. Lauren Howarth (Peter Riley), in medal contention throughout, put in a brave effort to finish fifth (20:56), with Hannah Walker (Bud Baldaro) in 12th (21:27) and Lily Partridge (Mick Woods) in 15th (21:33) rounding off the scoring positions.

Scotland’s Beth Potter (Mick Woods) came home in 17th (21:44), with Hannah Alderson (Bud Baldaro) suffering with her footwear throughout on the hard, icy course, eventually finishing in 62nd (25:07).

A strong start from the British women was hampered by a collision on the second small loop which saw Partridge tumble to the ground along with a group of four athletes.

Coulson and Howarth maintained their positions at the front of the pack throughout the second and third kilometres, forming two-thirds of a leading trio as the race approached the halfway stage in 10:41.

It was then on the second last lap - just under 4kms in - that Coulson made her decisive move. Sensationally putting 75 metres between herself and the chasing pack within a matter of minutes, the 22-year-old did not look back as she confirmed victory and her best ever result after a tough couple of years with injury.

“This has been a long time coming,” she said. The last time I made a GB team was five years ago. I put it down to my coach, Mick Woods. I just really worked hard and I enjoyed it out there today, I was even singing to myself on the way around. I just felt good. I got going and then didn’t stop.”

Howarth, who improved on a 13th place finish from last year, was exceptionally pleased with her race and glad to come away with her fourth Euro Cross team medal.

“I just wanted to come out here and prove that I was better than I showed at the Trials. I should have tagged on to Jess a little longer, I felt fine at the end and I should have been flat out. Next year though. It was a great team effort. I’m really pleased for all the girls and it’s great to go back with a medal.”

Under-23 Men 8.050km

2011 silver medallist James Wilkinson (Phil Townsend) won a brilliant individual bronze medal (24:43), but it was the team bronze that epitomised the spirited performances from the full squad of athletes across the afternoon in freezing conditions.

The six Aviva GB & NI representatives, led by Wilkinson, packed well in early stages of the 8.050km course, but they were much further down the field than they might have liked at that stage.

It was only as the athletes completed their final short lap and moved into the first of four long laps that Wilkinson was in a competitive position, and behind him, Nick Goolab (Steve Sharp), Dewi Griffiths (Kevin Evans) and Andrew Heyes (Keith Whitelam) were fighting for scoring positions in an intense team competition that was changing hands with each turn.

Just short of halfway, Wilkinson moved up to sixth and on the penultimate lap he was battling for a podium spot within a group of three, with Belgium’s Soufiane Bouchikhi well clear, it seemed.

Ultimately, it wasn’t to be for the Belgian as pre-race favourite and defending champion Henrik Ingebrigsten - an Olympic finalist over 1500m - came through to take the overall win in 24:30, but Wilkinson timed it well to take third.

“I had no idea coming into this weekend, I could have been right up there, I could have been 20th, I just didn’t know,” he said. “We were mile behind at the start but the gaps just kept getting smaller and by the time we got to the large laps I was in the right position. We’re all delighted to have won team medals.

Credit where credit’s due, too, because with a mile to go the Aviva GB & NI team were in fourth and one point behind Norway. They pulled it back to win by a single point.

Second Brit back behind Wilkinson was the impressive Heyes in 16th (25:12) who was drafted in as a late replacement for Jonny Hay who has Tonsillitis.

Former European Junior 5000m bronze medallist Simon Horsfield finished in 23rd (25:21) with Griffiths making up the scoring quartet in 38th (25:38). Scott McDonald (Derek Easton), better known as a mountain running specialist and representing GB & NI in cross country for the first time, finished 45th in 25:52 and Goolab, who had looked confident and strong in the early stages, dropped back to finish 75th (26:42).

Senior Women 8.050km

Louise Damen (self-coached) used  her vast experience to secure 11th place overall in 28:22 and lead the Aviva GB & NI contingent to a bronze medal team performance, in a 8.050km race that was impressively won for the second consecutive year by Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton.

Welsh Euro Cross debutant Caryl Jones (George Edwards) continued her strong cross country season with a 15th place finish in 28:29, slightly ahead of Scotland’s Rosie Smith in 16th (28:31).

Stockport’s Elle Baker (David Turnbull) was the fourth scoring finisher for the British team in 18th (28:35), whilst Katrina Wootton (Harvey Rose) and Emily Wicks (Keith Donkin) came home in 22nd (28:40) and 33rd (29:15) position respectively.

It was Jones who led the British charge for much of the race, with herself, Smith, Wootton and Baker all remaining within 20 metres of the leaders over the opening 4km. With Ireland’s Britton leading a breakaway group of seven at the halfway stage, the British squad fought a brave battle to remain high up in the second tier of runners. Damen proved especially strong on the last lap, helping to secure the fourth Euro Cross team medal of her career after three silvers in 2007, 2008 and 2010.

“For me it was a race of two halves really,” the 30-year-old said. “I didn’t get the best of starts, which in hindsight might have actually done me a favour. I was back in about 45th after the first four smaller laps and I couldn’t really get going. 

“I’m overall fairly pleased but at the same time slightly gutted that I came 11th, with top 10 a bit of a benchmark. I’m chuffed to be first Brit though and that’s probably enough considering where I’ve come from this year. Getting another team medal is a great result too.” 

Senior Men 9.880km

Tom Farrell (Dave Smith) totally justified his selection and first Aviva GB & NI senior vest when finishing fourth (30:14), leading the British men to a brilliant team silver.

Jonathan Taylor (Gordon Surtees), the Trials winner, was well up in the early stages along with Tom Humphries (Phil Clamp), Steve Vernon (Dave Turnbull) and Farrell.

Vernon momentarily dropped back and was in 20th just short of halfway, but the tough course suited him and his experience paid off as he held it together to come through into 10th (30:28) at the finish, Taylor one place behind in 11th (30:30).

Farrell played it safe and after staying out of trouble over the first two kilometres gradually started to make his presence felt.

“I’d watched the other races and how they’d played out and I saw how guys like Wilko (James Wilkinson) ran, and it worked,” said the Oklahoma State athlete who finished ninth in the recent NCAA Cross Country Championships. “I went out steady because I didn’t want to get caught up in any of the mess, and once I got settled in I felt great. I knew I was running well and I was confident; if I wasn’t confident I wouldn’t have wanted to be considered for selection, but it was my first Europeans and I’m just really pleased to have justified my place.

“The selectors believed in me and that I could deliver, and I hope it’s showed that there’s some real talent, especially in this age group, out in the States.

“That’s my first senior vest and to finish so high up, I’m happy, although a medal would have been nice.”

The fourth scoring athlete was the fast finishing Andy Vernon (Nic Bideau) in 13th (30:33), who admitted that he’d come through a bad patch to make it count in the overall standings after making up several places in the last couple of kilometres.

Humphries faded slightly but still finished well inside the top 20 in 17th (30:37) with Keith Gerrard (Art Acevedo) in 59th (31:49).

UKA’s Performance Director Neil Black said: “That was another outstanding team performance from our athletes in very tough conditions, and I’m very proud to have been part of it.

“I think the pressure increases year on year for these guys after the incredibly high standard set each time we attend this event, but once again they’ve raised their game and in doing so, we’ve topped the medal table for the fifth successive year.

“From Jess Coulson’s individual gold to the team effort shown by the under-23 men to take bronze by a single point from Norway, that’s what it’s all about and I’m very proud to have been part of it; it’s a very fitting end to an incredible year for athletics.”

Athlete interviews are available now on the UKA You Tube Channel.

Full results are available via the European Athletics website.