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gb & NI team victorious at the bupa great edinburgh xcountry

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Team Edinburgh

11 January 2014

The Great Britain and Northern Ireland team were victorious in the International Challenge at the Bupa Great Edinburgh XCountry today. The 36-strong team won the title with 159 points, 13 ahead of Team Europe while the USA were third with 203.

On a dry but cold day, athletes had to contend with muddy conditions in the picturesque Holyrood Park where the first GB & NI senior finishers were Andy Vernon (Nic Bideau) and Gemma Steel (John Nuttall). In a dramatic final event, the senior women’s team moved GB & NI from third to first in the overall standings.

Race reports in the order they happened are below:

Junior Men – 6km

In the first race of the day, Team Europe came out on top over GB & NI and the USA’s junior men. Alexis Meillet and Yemaneberhan Crippa ensured a one-two for Europe ahead of USA’s Michael Maton while the first GB & NI finisher was Alex George (Paul de-Camps) in eighth.

A large leading group had developed on the first lap with Jamaine Coleman (Norman Poole) and Matthew Shirling (Adrian Webb) to the fore but when the pace quickened the field quickly split up and it was George who cleverly worked his way through to cross the line first out of the six GB & NI runners in eighth place with a time of 19:24.

17 year old George was delighted with how he performed in his first race wearing GB & NI colours, he said:

“It was surprisingly fun. I didn’t go off hard and instead I sat in the pack and worked my way through and it worked brilliantly for me; that’s how I run my races. It was awesome to run in a GB vest; I didn’t expect to get picked for this because I only took up running around three years ago so to be here now and first Brit home is unbelievable. It’s great how far I’ve come.”

The rest of the British team finished as a pack to occupy positions 13 to 17, with Shirling next to cross the line ahead of Liam Dee (Simon Doyle), Zak Miller (Paul Shaw), Coleman, and Jack Crabtree (Norman Poole).

Junior Women – 4km

GB & NI completely dominated the junior women’s race to record all six of their finishers in the top ten. They followed last year’s clean sweep of the top six places to occupy all three podium positions this time around as Bobby Clay (Peter Mullervy) led from gun to tape to win in fine style with a time of 13:59.

Clay was joined at the front early on by Lydia Turner (Thomas Millmore) but she was caught in the second half of the race by Alex Clay (Mullervy), who eventually finished four seconds behind her sister. The next British athlete home was 15 year old Harriet Knowles-Jones (Russell Tart) in fifth place, before Amy Griffiths (Woods) was seventh and Jessica Gibbon (Rob McKim) ninth.

Afterwards Bobby Clay said:

“It was really good. I felt great on the first lap and just wanted to sit in but I made my move at the the second lap when thought I should be pushing on. Then I’d got myself a lead and thought I’ve got to finish it off. Last year I didn’t run as well as I’d wanted so this time I was coming to get revenge.”

International Men’s 4km

Garrett Heath was a surprise winner of the invitational men’s 4km race, which didn’t count towards the international team standings.

The American defeated the likes of 11-time World Cross Country champion Kenenisa Bekele and former Olympic and world 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop to win in a time of 11:51. Chris Thompson (Mark Rowland) was the first British finisher in sixth place with a time of 12:05.

Thompson said:

“That was a shock to the system but it was a good start to the year and I felt really strong. It’s been a tough couple of months and it was me against my body today and I wanted to make sure I won that battle so I’m really pleased with how I felt more than anything.”

Senior Men – 8km

12 GB & NI athletes lined up in the senior men’s race, with the first six across the line to score in the International Challenge. The in-form Andy Vernon, who was captaining the British men, led by example and ran superbly over the 8km course but was unable to match the USA’s Chris Derrick and had to settle for second place. Vernon had led early on but in the middle of the race a group of three, including Vernon, Derrick and Europe’s Bashir Abdi, had broken clear.

Derrick eventually built up a winning lead and Vernon trailed Abdi until the final kilometre where he used his trademark quick finish to overhaul his rival and cross the line in 24:21, ten seconds behind Derrick. Following a bronze medal at the European Cross Country Championships in Belgrade last month, Vernon was pleased to continue his excellent form into 2014 despite not feeling at his very best.

He said:

“On the first lap it wasn’t particularly fast, just enough to get the race going and then Chris took over and got a gap over me. At the moment I don’t feel the same as I did at the European Cross, that was a really hard race for me and maybe it’s taking its toll now.

“I was in a bit of a tussle on the last lap and managed to get him in the end so I’m pleased with that. Chris is a good athlete and he’s ran about 27:30 for 10km so there is no shame in getting beaten by him.”

Behind Vernon the GB & NI team packed well to clinch the senior men’s team victory. Callum Hawkins (Robert Hawkins) had one of his best runs to date to be the second Brit across the line in sixth place and he was followed by Jonathan Hay (Mick Woods) in tenth place, Steve Vernon (Dave Turnbull) 14th, Adam Hickey (Eamonn Martin) 15th and Dewi Griffiths (Kevin Evans) in 16th place to complete the scoring six.

Senior Women – 6km

With the team standings in the balance, the pressure was on the GB & NI senior women’s team to propel themselves from third to first in the overall standings and they delivered in style.

On the first lap Charlotte Purdue (Woods) led the bunched field before Emelia Gorecka and team captain Steel led with a lap to go, with the likes of European duo Fionnuala Britton and Sophie Duarte still in contention. In the final two kilometres though, European silver medallist Steel pulled away to build up a significant lead as Gorecka, making her senior cross country debut, slipped to third behind Britton.

Steel’s winning time was 20:35 with Gorecka running 20:51 and the rest of the British women were not far behind; Purdue was fifth, Lily Partridge (Woods) seventh, Steph Twell (Woods) ninth and Chloe Richardson (Peter Stewart) tenth.

Steel was thrilled to have improved from her sixth place finish in Antrim last weekend to take a clear victory today. “It was brilliant, I loved it,” she said. “I felt comfortable and in control and it was a good way to do it. Nobody wanted to take the race on because it was really blustery. I’m pleased Emelia stayed with me, even on her senior debut, and we helped each other out and worked together. It was great that the senior women could take care of business at the end and get the overall team victory.”

GB & NI Team Leader Wendy Sly was delighted with the overall team performance but particularly the way that the senior women were able to turn the overall standings around in the day’s last event.

She said: “Today was a fantastic overall performance and I think the senior women showed real guts out there. It got cold and the course churned up so to pull together as a team in that way has brought us from third to winners which is a fantastic achievement for everybody who’s here.”