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UK Athletics

Women’s reports from World Cross

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Charlotte Purdue
Charlotte Purdue

UK Cross Challenge champion Hatti Dean (Hallamshire Harriers Sheffield) and UK Inter-Counties Under 20 champion Charlotte Purdue (Aldershot, Farnham and District AC) ran particularly superbly in the heat and humidity of Mombasa, Kenya, to lead both Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland Women’s Teams to fifth place in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships on Saturday 24 March.

Senior Women’s 8km

Hatti Dean (Hallamshire Harriers Sheffield) was 15th in 28:48 and Hayley Yelling (Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow AC) 16th in 28:53 as Norwich Union GB under-lined the strength in depth of the country’s endurance running women by finishing fifth team with 140 points behind Ethiopia (19), Kenya (26), Morocco (99) and Spain (135).


Kenyan-born Lornah Kiplagat – who is now based in the Netherlands and succeeded Yelling as European Cross Country Champion – scored a run-away victory in 26:23 with Tirunesh Dibaba second in 26:47, a second ahead of her Ethiopian team mate Meselech Melkamu.


Of the other three members of the Norwich Union GB team, Felicity Milton (Durham University) finished 49th in 30:26 at the end of her first winter of cross country running and Elle Baker (South London Harriers) 60th in 30:59 to close-in the team. There were 82 finishers.


The Trial winner, Kate Reed (Bristol and West AC) was among 12 athletes who were forced to drop out. She had led the Norwich Union GB team through the first 2km in 6:47 with Yelling 34th in 6:49, Dean 46th in 6:56, Milton 69th in 7:07 and Baker one position behind her in the same time.


By halfway, passed by Kiplagat in 13:00, Yelling was 26th in 14:04, Dean 29th in 14:09, Reed 41st in 14:19, Milton 59th in 14:38 and Baker 68th in 14:57.


Through 6km, reached by Kiplagat in 19:36, Yelling was 19th in 21:27, Dean 21st in 21:28, Milton 49th in 22:30 and Baker 61st in 23:01.


Fifth place represented a great achievement for a GB team without quality athletes such as Paula Radcliffe, Kathy Butler, Jo Pavey, Mara Yamauchi and Liz Yelling, who all have other priorities this spring.


Dean, who has responded with typical spirit to the disappointment of missing out on a place in the silver-medal winning Norwich Union GB team at this winter’s European Cross Country Championships, said: “We all prepared quite well. We kept cool before the start. I took lots of water on through the race and the heat didn’t affect me as I thought it would.


“I tried to go off quite steady. After a lap and a half I was quite worried because I wasn’t feeling too good. But I was overtaking people so I realised they were fading even faster than I was. That gave me confidence and people said I was looking stronger and stronger as the race went on.”


Maths teacher Yelling castigated herself for miscounting the laps. She said: “I was convinced we had another lap to run. I felt quite comfortable and I’m sure I heard one of the other girl’s personal coach shout that there was one to go. Then we were marshalled into the finishing straight and I thought, ‘Stupid girl!’


“But the occasion was absolutely brilliant. When we got off the coach to go to the start, it was amazing. We were all so scared, thinking it was too hot to even warm-up. I think it was because we had watched the Junior Women’s race and seen many of them suffer. But the race was normally not too bad. I didn’t go out as hard as normal because I was determined to get round. I’ve never experienced anything like these Championships!”


Baker, who missed much of the early winter action because of an ankle injury, said: “The race was very tough. We did everything possible beforehand to keep cool. But you couldn’t warm-up so it was difficult to get your mind on what you’re supposed to do. I was getting my breathing going after about 2km, which is a bit too late. And it was such a fast course, though the sand dunes broke the rhythm a lot.


“I suppose I was not strong enough but I did my best. When I realised Kate was dropping down the field and I was our fourth scorer, I realised how important it was to pick up as many places as I could.”


And the exacting conditions have not diminished her enthusiasm for more major international appearances. She added: “It was a brilliant trip. It was great of UK Athletics to give us the opportunity to prepare properly in Durban. It was nice to be able to train in the evening, be on the grass track and be with the rest of the team.


“And on the way to the races, it was very exciting with everyone waving in the streets of Mombasa. I didn’t want it to end, really. And it hasn’t because what we did at these championships we can build on at future championships.”


Reed’s story helps explain why many athletes from other countries finished up in hospital: “I passed out. I remember the first lap and nothing after that. I woke up with a drip in each arm and asked, ‘Where did I finish?’ I was gutted when Jenny [Clague, the Norwich Union GB women’s team coach] told me I’d had to be rescued from the course. The team doctor, Noel Pollock, and physio, Mark Buckingham, were absolutely brilliant to make sure I didn’t finish up in hospital.


“I’ve talked everything through and I still don’t know what I did wrong. I drank plenty. I kept cool. My preparation was perfect. There was nothing to suggest I was less than 100%. Everything had gone brilliantly in Durban. I trained better than I’ve ever trained. I was really looking forward to racing. Now I’m just glad I’m in one piece.”

Junior Women’s 6km


The youngest section of the Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland team performed with a maturity beyond their years to keep the European flag flying, finishing fifth with 96 points behind Kenya (13), Eritrea (33), Ethiopia (36) and Japan (61).


The race was marred for much of the excited crowd by three of the leading athletes – including defending champion Pauline Korikwiang (Kenya) – mistakenly putting in a huge finishing effort with a 2km lap still to go. As they ground to a confused halt, three Kenyans went clear to take the individual medals in anti-climatic fashion: 1 Linet Chepkwenoi Barasa 20:52; 2 Mercy Jelimo Kosgei 20:59; 3 Veronica Nyaruai Wanjiru 21:10.


Charlotte Purdue (Aldershot, Farnham and District AC) was always the leader of the Norwich Union GB effort – amazing considering she is only 15 years old, even though she won the Trial at the UK Inter-Counties Championships in Nottingham last month.


After 2km, the leaders went through in 6 minutes 51 seconds. Purdue was 33rd in 6:58, Emily Pidgeon (Gloucester AC) 35th in 6:59, Jess Coulson (Stockport Harriers) 41st in 7:02, Stevie Stockton (Vale Royal AC) 46th in 7:07, Olivia Kenney (Royal Sutton Coldfield AC) 47th also in 7:07 and Sian Edwards (Kettering Town Harriers) 60th in 7:15 in a field of 87.


At 4km, Korikwiang and Ethiopians Genzebe Dibaba and Emebt Etea put in their lung-bursting finishing bursts, reaching the electronic timing mat in 13:39 but then realising to their horror there was another 2km to go – efforts and errors that cost them all chance of individual medals. Purdue had moved up to 19th in 14:21, Pidgeon 20th in 14:22, Coulson 33rd in 14:44, Kenney 45th in 15:04, Edwards 46th in 15:06 with Stockton 59th in 15:29.


By the finishing line, Purdue had continued to progress through the field so successfully that she finished 15th in 22:00 – and had run herself to the point of exhaustion. She was followed by four of the athletes who were in the gold medal winning Norwich Union GB team at this winter’s European Cross Country Championships: Pidgeon was 17th in 22:07, Coulson 26th in 22:38, Kenney 38th in 23:22, Edwards 40th in 23:41. Stockton on her debut finished 52nd in 24:21. There were 67 finishers and 20 athletes who did not finish.


Purdue needed time in the First Aid tent before giving her cool assessment of her first major championship … remember, she was too young to be a part of the Norwich Union GB team that retained the European Cross Country title in December.


She said of her race: “I never imagined I would lead the team home! It started off quite slowly, I thought. I tried to stay with Emily at the beginning. I remember going past her but it was so hot, I don’t remember the end of the race. I’m told that when I got to the end I fainted and had to be carried off on a stretcher.”


Purdue‘s coach Mick Woods, Performance Coach at the UK Athletics Endurance Performance Centre at St Mary’s University Twickenham, said: “That performance by a 15-year-old is outstanding and, to be honest, I’m not surprised because she always works hard and her preparation was impeccable. She prepared very well at home, doing sessions in the acclimatisation chamber at St Mary’s under the watchful eye of Caroline Robertson, the English Institute of Sport physiology intern whose input was invaluable.”


Pidgeon, the reigning European Junior 5000m champion, said: “It was so hot – 33° when we ran. I’m really pleased considering everything that has happened. And we were the first European team by a mile. The atmosphere was amazing: you couldn’t hear yourself think or breathe.”


Coulson said: “I enjoyed it quite a lot. It was really, really hot and though I took water at every opportunity, I heated up again immediately after each drink I took. I can’t remember what happened at the end. I’ve no idea how I got from the finish to the medical tent but I remember them tipping me upside down, dowsing me with water and giving me loads of jelly babies. It’s probably better running in Stockport, but I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.”


Kenney said: “It was very tough. I’ve trained in the heat chamber at the University of Birmingham but this was an amazing experience. I wouldn’t want to go through it again straight away, though the atmosphere was amazing. I gave 100 per cent but I didn’t feel great in myself. But I’m pleased to be in the top 50 – and even more pleased that the team placed well.”


Edwards, 10th in this race last year but beset by injury problems for much of the last three months, revealed that she has been back in full training for only the last two weeks. She said: “The medical staff have been brilliant. I couldn’t miss this experience. You don’t get to race in Kenya every day. And everyone connected with the team has been lovely. I’m determined to be OK for the track season.”


Stockton said: “It was horrible – the worst race ever. The heat and everything got to me. I really didn’t think I was going to finish, but I got through it. I had a bad throat and chest over the last few days but the medical team have done a fantastic job. They were amazing today. I just want to improve now and have more GB appearances.”