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impressive junior women bronze headlineS gb & ni performance at iaaf world cross

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Junior Women

24 March 2013

An impressive junior women’s team bronze medal highlighted an excellent Great Britain and Northern Ireland team performance across the board at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland this afternoon.

In below freezing but sunny conditions, and on a deliberately challenging course that had everything – ice, mud, bark, logs and a deadly final hill – McCain World Cross Trials winner Emelia Gorecka (coach: Mick Woods) was first Brit over the line as the junior women’s team held off Japan to finish third overall and secure the country’s first medal of any kind at these championships since 2004, as well as the first medal in junior women’s history for GB & NI.

Further impressive performance saw the senior and junior men’s teams improve on their last World Cross outings by finishing in 11th and 9th respectively, with the senior women ending strongly to secure seventh place.

Full event reports are below in the order they happened, including comment from GB &NI team leader Peter Eriksson and team captain Steve Vernon.

Junior Women – 6km

After dominating every domestic race she has run this year, former European Cross Junior Champion Gorecka led the British challenge from early on as she was the only non-African representative in a breakaway group of 15 within the race’s first kilometre.

On a rugged, challenging course for all concerned, Gorecka managed to hold on to the end of that leading group entering the second loop 14 seconds back in 14th place. An impressive first 2km saw Seattle-based Amy-Eloise Neale (Frank Dauncey) close behind her in 18th and 15 year old Bobby Clay (Peter Mullervy) immediately behind her in 20th.

Gorecka struggled to keep pace with the leading Africans through the middle stages of the course, and despite maintaining her 14th place position after 4km, fell 42 seconds behind the leading Kenyan duo of Faith Kipyegon and Agnes Tirop. Thoughts of a potential British team medal surfaced as the athletes entered the final two kilometres in third place however, with North of England Cross champion Georgia Taylor-Brown (Paul Roden) enjoying a particularly strong middle section to advance up into 18th place and help GB & NI open up a significant points gap over fourth placed nation Japan.

With Kipyegon eventually pipping her compatriot Tirop to the line in 17:51 to defend her title from two years ago, Britain’s juniors dug deep to run a heroic final lap and hold off the mounting challenge of the Japanese, securing the first ever medal for a GB & NI junior women’s team at these championships as they finished on 81 points ahead of Japan’s 90.

Taylor-Brown continued her storming run to finish in 17th in 19:26, one position behind leading Brit Gorecka in 19:19. Neale, who travelled nearly 8,000 miles from the USA to compete here, was third Brit and 21st overall in 19:34, with youngster Bobby Clay rounding off the scoring Brits in 27th in 19:45. East Kent’s Rebecca Weston (James Roberts) and Alex Clay (Peter Mullervy), older sister of Bobby, both ran sterling races in their own right to finish in 33rd and 37th overall in 20:00 and 20:11 respectively.

Gorecka, who followed up a 15th place finish in 2011 with 16th this year, was a little disappointed personally to not have finished slightly higher up the field, but was overjoyed with the team bronze medal.

She said: “It was good, I went out there to give it my best shot and see how much I could hang on. I had an amazing start and was right up there, but then I lost touch with them at the top loop on the first lap and just felt weak. I probably should have held my position longer than I did but I’m glad I gave it my best shot.

“I’m over the moon with the third place as a team. Everyone ran really well, but I should have definitely been further up near the top 10. However, to get a team medal, that’s always the aim I think and I’m really proud. “

Taylor-Brown, who focuses much of her time on triathlon, was arguably the revelation of the day. She spoke of the pain involved but the joy at helping the British team secure a first medal for nine years.

“The start was so fast and I thought this is not going to be a good day. I just thought I’ve got to build into it and as Steve (Vernon) said during his team speech run your own race and obviously it worked. I worked hard on the hill and when you get to the top, people start jogging, so I tried accelerating off the hill.

“It’s amazing to get that third team place – all the way around people were shouting that we were moving up, so I had to hold off a few of the athletes there at the end. It killed me, but I’m so happy with that race.”

Junior Men - 8km

Jonathan Davies (Rob McKim) was the first British athlete home in the under-20 men’s race as the GB & NI team finished ninth in the team standings.

Davies gradually progressed through the field to finish 35th in 23:22, closely followed by Michael Callegari (Nadeem Shaikh) three seconds back in 37th. Michael Ward (Paul Darney) was 51st (23:39) and Gordon Benson (Philip Townsend) completed the scoring four in 58th place, crossing the line in a time of 23:50. William Paulson (Christopher Frapwell) finished 72nd in 24:03 and Lewis Lloyd placed 77th in 24:17.

A ferocious early pace set by a group of Kenyans and Ethiopians resulted in an early breakaway group led by Leonard Barsoton of Kenya. After the first of the four laps Michael Ward was 20 seconds adrift of the leaders in 26th and headed the GB & NI team as they held four positions in the top 40.

The leaders continued to force the pace and the leading group stretched out with an injection of pace from Muktar Edris of Ethiopia. At the halfway stage the GB & NI team sat in fourth place overall, at this point led by Callegari in 35th.

As the battle between Kenya and Ethiopia continued at the front of the field, McCain World Cross Trials winner Jonathan Davies moved further up the field to 32nd, followed closely by Callegari who remained in 35th.

Davies and Callegari held their top forty positions to lead the GB & NI team home in ninth as Ethiopia’s Olympic finalist and 12:47 5000m runner Hagos Gebrhiwet out-sprinted Barsoton for the gold with his teammate Edris clinching bronze. Ethiopia also claimed the team title, just three points ahead of their Kenyan rivals.

Despite finding the course tough, Davies was happy with his performance at his first IAAF World Cross Country Championships.

“It was different, very different to what I’ve ever done before, but I really enjoyed it. It was a very tough course. It started off quick, but I knew that would be the case, I didn’t feel too bad and just settled in. I was the fourth or fifth Brit for a little bit of the time, but from the second to the third lap I went past them and then it was just a case of hanging on to be honest.

“It’s been a great experience – three years ago when I started, I didn’t imagine I’d be doing this, so what a weekend it’s been for me.”

Triathlon specialist Benson believes that the World Cross was the hardest race he has ever experienced.

“That was the hardest race of my life, no doubt about it. The Kenyans and Ethiopians are so quick; you don’t want to just let them run away but you don’t really have a choice. I’ve run in all sorts of conditions but this is the toughest race and toughest course I’ve ever done, it just gets harder and harder.”

Senior Women – 8km

Gemma Steel (coach: John Nuttall) improved significantly on her 54th place finish at 2011’s World Cross to lead the GB & NI team home as she finished in 31st in 25:47, 1:23 behind winner Emily Chebet from Kenya, sealing a seventh place finish for the British contingent.

English national cross country champion Louise Damen (self-coached) enjoyed a strong second half of the race to finish 37th in 25:55, with Steph Twell (Mick Woods) closely behind in 40th place in 25:58 and Elle Baker (David Turnbull) rounding off the scoring positions in 46th, six seconds back from Twell. 22 year old Lauren Howarth (Peter Riley) finished in 48th in 26:05, whilst World Cross debutant Emily Wicks (Keith Donkin) came home in 65th, in 26:48.

In a blistering start to the race that saw a pack of 10 athletes break away within the first kilometre, Ireland’s European Cross champion Fionnuala Britton stated her intentions by taking the lead early on amongst a pack of Africans.

Britain’s runners began relatively slowly, with Gemma Steel 14 seconds back in 30th after one lap, followed by Twell in 38th, with Damen somewhat surprisingly down the field in 73rd position and the GB & NI team in ninth place.

It was in the middle stages of the race where GB & NI solidified their positions though, with Twell, Howarth and Damen all making significant moves up the field on laps two and three. Twell advanced into 30th after three laps with Steel maintaining a steady pace in 28th, whilst Howarth moved up eight places to 43rd after 6km with Damen jumping 29 places in the middle section up to 44th.

A seventh place standing for the team was maintained throughout the final 2km, with the experience of 30 year old Damen again coming to the fore as she used her trademark strong finish to jump a further six places into 37th by the finish line, with Twell and Howarth fading slightly.

An Ethiopian victory looked likely with Hiwot Ayalew leading by 25m heading to the final steep hill climb, but 2010 World Cross champion Chebet chased her down and with 200m to go took the lead for good and in the process claimed her second world title at this very course in 24:24. Ireland’s Britton faded in the final few kilometres but was leading European in 14th, 44 seconds back.

Loughborough-based Steel was the most impressive Brit, improving significantly on her only previous World Cross appearance two years ago and continuing her good form following a seventh place finish at the World Half Marathon Championships last October.

She said: “I’m pretty pleased with that. There were a few just in front of me but I couldn’t quite get them, I didn’t have the legs at the end and once they pull away it’s hard to get it back.

The 27 year old was pleased with a good weekend’s work personally and was happy with a good team performance.

“I’ve made good progress since the Inter Counties and to be first Brit is a big achievement. It’s nice to be back - I’m a work in progress and it’s good to be back on form and top Brit. The team performance was solid, you can’t expect too much at this level so we did well.”

Senior Men - 12km

The GB & NI senior men’s missed out on a top ten finish by just one point as they placed 11th in the overall standings.

Frank Tickner (Clive Thomas) got out well as the race started in typically quick fashion and settled into the top 30 alongside Jonny Taylor (Gordon Surtees) with no breakaway runners willing to make a decisive move on the first of the six laps of the 12km race.

The race began to accelerate on the second lap as the field was stretched out firstly by Ethiopia’s Tesfaye Abera and then Australia’s Collis Birmingham, with defending champion Imane Merga also to the fore. Meanwhile, GB & NI’s Jonathan Taylor progressed to 24th as Tickner and Steve Vernon (David Turnbull) remained in the top 50 with Michael Skinner (Andrew Hobdell) in 54th.

The race began in earnest on the third lap as a breakaway group began to emerge and at the halfway stage the GB & NI team was in tenth place with Taylor continuing to lead the way in 24th backed up well by Vernon, Tickner and Skinner.

The GB & NI team maintained their standing over the next two laps, as the course began to deteriorate and conditions became more difficult. As they entered the sixth and final lap Taylor remained in a top 25 position and Vernon moved up to 35th with GB & NI holding on to tenth place in the team standings.

Kenyan Japhet Korir ran away from his rivals over the final lap to take a comfortable victory in 32:45, with 2011 champion Imane Merga in second and Eritrea’s Keklemariam Medhin getting bronze. The tables were turned in the team stakes though as Ethiopia took gold ahead of the USA, who were two points clear of the third placed Kenyan team.

Behind them, Taylor crossed the line in 34:14 to finish 31st in his first World Cross, eight places and eight seconds ahead of Vernon in 39th whilst McCain World Cross Trials winner Tickner made up several places in the closing stages to finish 45th in a time of 34:40 with Skinner completing the scoring four in 51st (34:49). Phil Nicholls (Bud Baldaro) completed the course in 35:15 to finish in 68th place.

Taylor was satisfied with how he performed in what was his first taste of the World Cross Country Championships.

“It was good, it wasn’t quite as fast as I’d thought it would be. I was able to get into a rhythm and I don’t think I faded too much, so I’m quite happy with that.

“A lot of people before they come are already beaten and I wasn’t going to come here and be an also ran. I’d rather come through guns blazing than finishing wishing I’d done more in the race. It’s my first global championship, so it’s a big honour and a big moment to represent my country.”

GB & NI team captain Steve Vernon was pleased with both the senior men’s team and wider GB & NI team performances.

“To be brutally honest it’s been a long season and that was hard from the gun. I’m pleased and I think it’s my highest World Cross finish ever but it was just brutal. I was ill for the week after the Trial and I didn’t do my first session until Sunday, I was fine today but it knocked my head. I ran as well as I could.

“It was a good team performance. People have said the World Cross has weakened but it hasn’t, all the big boys were here so that’s a good team performance and I’m really pleased.

“We’ve had a great camaraderie and team spirit and we’ve ran really well. The junior women were fantastic; you can’t beat arriving and seeing that performance, it really lifts you.”

Peter Eriksson, GB & NI team leader for his first World Cross, was impressed with what he saw throughout the afternoon.

“As we said before these championships, we were aiming to do better than last time, and we did. The junior team were much improved on two years ago, with the women picking up a medal which was phenomenal. The senior men were also better - 11th against a 15th place last time, so it’s all very hopeful and I’m very pleased with the result.

“That was a fantastic race by the junior girls in particular and I’m really proud of them.”