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Great Britain and Northern Ireland team Dominate Euro Cross County

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Twell Euro Cross 2008
Steph Twell wins European XC Junior race for third time in Brussels 2008



14 December 2008



The Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland Team enjoyed a record-breaking SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Brussels on Sunday, topping the medal table with 12 medals including four gold.

On a day of unprecedented achievement, every GB & NI team in every age group won a team medal, Stephanie Twell (Aldershot, Farnham & District) won her third successive junior women’s title, a race in which the six British athletes filled the first six places. The latter is the first occasion one country has ever accomplished this feat at either a World or European Cross Country Championships.


There were individual silver medals for Mo Farah (Newham & Essex) in the senior men’s race, Andy Vernon (Aldershot, Farnham & District) in the under 23 men’s. Sarah Tunstall (Kendal AC) in the under 23 women’s and Charlotte Purdue (Aldershot, Farnham & District) in the under 20 women’s.

Lauren Howarth (Leigh Harriers) won the sole individual bronze medal in the women’s under 20 race. In the team competitions, GB & NI took gold in the men’s under 23, women’s under 23 and women’s under 20 races, silver in the senior women’s race and bronze in the under 20 men’s and senior men’s races.   


Ian Stewart, UK Athletics newly-appointed National Endurance Coach said: “It was a great day. There was plenty to be very satisfied and optimistic about. There are not many sports where we can claim to be the best in Europe, but we can in cross country. It is a great achievement in itself and it gives us a real platform to build on for the future. There is still a lot of hard work ahead though.

“I thought the junior women’s result was absolutely outstanding. The great thing is that we have got another six girls back at home who are capable of winning a medal, such is the depth. Steph Twell’s run was unbelievable. She had all the pressure, all the expectation, but produced a great run. It is the sign of a real champion.” 


2006 winner Mo Farah (Newham & Essex) enjoyed a close tussle with Segiy Lebid on the 10k course. The two broke away on the penultimate lap, but the 25 year old  just lost out on the last lap to the Ukrainian who pulled away to take his eighth Euro Cross crown in 30:49, with Farah eight seconds behind, followed by training partner Mustafa Mohamed (Sweden), who clocked 31:13.

GB & NI took team bronze behind France and winners Spain. Farah said: “I wanted to win it. I tried my best though and I don’t know what more I could have done. I was very surprised with how strong he was at the finish. At the midway point I thought we had got rid of him (Lebid), but he must have hung on in there.

“I’m a bit disappointed, but I am glad to have got a medal. I’m really pleased with the team though, I wasn’t sure if we would have won a medal. It’s been a disappointing year for me, not making the final in Beijing, but I’ve just got to build towards the World Championships in Berlin this summer. That is what it is all about.


Frank Tickner (Wells City) played a crucial role in the team success, finishing 10th his best-ever performance at the Euro Cross. He said :”It’s taken me four years to do something like this. On my previous three championships i have finished in the 30s and 40s. Today, I think I was a little lucky that the frost stayed off and it was hilly and muddy. That suited me.

“I knew that all the other teams had won medals, so we had a lot to live up to. So I’m pleased we didn’t let the side down.”
Mike Skinner (Blackheath & Bromley) was 20th, Lee Merrien (Guernsey Island) was 22nd, Scott Overall (Blackheath & Bromley) was 39th and Phil Wicks (Belgrave Harriers) was 45th.



GB & NI took team silver after packing four athletes into the top 20. Hatti Dean (Hallamshire Harriers) and Louise Damen (Winchester & District) led the way. The duo broke into the top 10 at the halfway point and maintained their form right through to the finish, Dean finishing 8th and Damen 9th.

Laura Kenney (Royal Sutton) picked up five places on the final lap to place 13th, former champion Hayley Yelling (Windsor, Slough, Eton & Hounslow) was a solid 19th, Helen Clitheroe (Preston Harriers) was 22nd and Gemma Miles (Kendal AC) was 34th.


Dean, who races steeplechase on the track, missed the Beijing Olympic Games due to an ankle injury and only made her competitive comeback last month after 10 weeks on the sidelines. Afterwards, she said: “I am really pleased. I haven’t ran well in a European or World Cross Country Championships for a while.


“But I knew I could do really well. I think that’s what made me a little nervous today. I knew I could do well, so I’m glad to have got it right. I cross trained really hard when I was out injured, so I kept my fitness, I just needed to race to get race sharp. I’ve been racing a bit differently recently. I used to just sprint off for the start and then, if I died, I died.


“But I have just been taking it easier until the halfway and then going. Cross country is something I have always done well, right back to being a junior. I just really enjoyed today. I just feel there is not so much pressure on me.”


Damen said: “I kept it to myself, but I was quietly aiming for top 10.  I loved every minute of it. I’m slowly but surely getting to where I want to be. No disrespect to the other girls, but I thought the team might find it a little difficult with a Liz (Yelling) or Jo (Pavey) providing the quality at the top end. But we fought well and packed in really well. What a inspiration the junior girls were this morning!”


U23 MEN - 8K

Andy Vernon (Aldershot, Farnham & District) won individual silver behind Italy’s Andrea Lalli, but ahead of pre-race favourite Ethiopian-born Selim Bayrak of Turkey.


Lalli finished the 8k course in 24:56, with Vernon eight seconds back and Bayrak a further 13 seconds adrift. Vernon was always in contention and looked safely set in third place with two laps remaining, but managed to pick off the rapidly fading Bayrak in the final lap.


Ben Lindsay (Aldershot, Farnham & District) was a gallant 4th; John Beattie (Winchester & District) 6th and Keith Gerrard (Newham & Essex) 7th to give GB & NI a comfortable victory in the team competition, ahead of Italy and France. Tom Russell (Bristol & West) and Alex Derricott (Staffordshire Moorlands) completed the British contingent, finishing 13th and 39th.

Vernon said: “You’d think I’d be pleased, but I really came here to win it. The break came and I really tried to rip the lid off it, but I got a stitch on the fourth and fifth laps and that held me back a bit. I did my best in the circumstances. But I’m really pleased for the team, that’s a great result.”


Beattie, who is based in Tulsa, USA, said: “I’m really pleased. This is the first time I have ran in the Europeans and the first time I have raced in the mud for two years. The courses in the US are nothing like this. I was in 4th with about five metres to go, but I got caught by Ben (Lindsay) and a French runner.”


U23 WOMEN - 6K

Fell runner Sarah Tunstall (Kendal AC) won silver with a gritty performance. The race was led out at a fast pace by Ethiopian-born Sultan Haydar (Turkey), but she slowed dramatically on the third and penultimate lap, before eventually dropping out. That left Susan Kuijken (Netherlands) in the lead with Tunstall and Morag MacLarty (Central AC) well placed in second and third.

Kuijken maintained her position through to the finish, winning in 21:02 over the 6k course, Tunstall hung on for the silver in 21:10, but MacLarty narrowly missed out on bronze in a sprint finish with Russia’s Yuliana Zarudneva after both were clocked at 21:24.


However, GB & NI were comfortable team winners, behind Tunstall and MacLarty, Katherine Sparke (Woodford Green & Essex Ladies) was 7th and Stacey Johnson (Cannock & Stafford) was 11th to give the British girls gold ahead of Russian and Germany. Hannah England (Oxford City) was 16th and Susie Hignett (Bournemouth AC) was 37th


Tunstall said: “I just wanted to get out there and give it my best shot. I always run better when it is a testing course. I run on the mountains during the summer so the hills suited me. It is in my legs. On the first lap I was in the top 10 and I just kind of worked my way through.

“Towards the end of the last lap I thought the Dutch girl (winner Susan Kuijken) started to come back to me. But I couldn’t get to her and started to hang on. You have to keep pushing all the way because you never know in cross country. There’s always people who can come through running hard right to the line.”


U20 MEN, 6K

In the tightest team competition of the day, GB & NI won bronze with 52, one point behind silver medallists Norway and two behind winners France. Last year’s fourth-placed athlete David Forrester (St Helens Sutton) was the British individual again, finishing 5th. Ross Murray (Gateshead Harriers) was 14th, Mitch Goose (City of Norwich) was 15th and Philip Berntsen (Winchester AC) was 18th.

Of the other Brits, Chris O’Hare (City of Edinburgh) was 28th and Nick Goolab (Belgrave Harriers) was 65th. Afterwards, Forrester expressed his disappointment, he said: “I’ve been a bit ill. I didn’t train for the week after the trials. But I let myself down. Running can be a cruel sport. I want a medal as a senior now, that’s what really matters.” 


The GB & NI junior women’s team produced an astounding performance filling the first six places in the junior women’s race, led by individual gold medallist Stephanie Twell. Twell’s victory, in her last international as a junior was the third successive time she has won this title, another unprecedented achievement.


19 year old Twell, who narrowly missed a place in the Olympic 1500m final in Beijing, ran conservatively in the opening stages, but with about a third to go on the 4k course had opened a significant gap to club-mate Purdue.

It was a lead she never looked like losing and she was strong at the finish, clocking 13:28, Purdue was second in 13:39, followed by surprise bronze medallist Lauren Howarth (Leigh Harriers) in 13:55, Emily Pidgeon (Stroud & District) was 4th in 14:00, Emma Pallant (Aldershot, Farnham & District) was 5th in 14:05 and Laura Park (Ellenborough AC) was 6th in 14:05.


Afterwards. Twell said: “I’m just so elated. It is a testament to my coach Mick Woods and my training partners. This medal is not just for me, it is for all them. I wasn’t expecting it to go off as hard as it did. The mud was flying everywhere at the start. I don’t really feel pressure. It’s more the expectation I place on myself. But I always want more from myself. Winning never makes it easier.”

Purdue said: ”I was hoping for gold. It’s one place better than last year. So next year I will be going for gold and the year after that! There were no team tactics. I couldn’t believe it at the finish when I looked around and all the girls came in one after the other. This is a good stepping stone to the worlds.”

Howarth said :”It’s a total shock. I was hoping for top 10. I was a lot stronger than I thought.”