Callum Elson secured Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s first medal at the inaugural World Athletics Road Running Championships as he took the silver medal in the men’s mile race, while the women’s half marathon quartet took team bronze in the penultimate event of the programme in Riga, Latvia.
There were also personal bests for Scott Beattie and Verity Ockenden as they earned top ten positions in the 5km races, and individual top 10s for Calli Thackery and Sam Harrison in the women’s half marathon.
It was Callum Elson (Cambridge and Coleridge) who would produce the standout performance of the day for the British team as he stole in for a superb silver medal in the men’s mile in a highly frantic finale to the contest.
With over twenty athletes still in contention heading into the final 200m, Elson moved wide – almost tangling with members of public in the crowd at the roadside – and placed himself in a brilliant position as a clear line opened up for him to attack the finish line with several athletes scrambling for the medals.
Facing a headwind in the final 800m, all the athletes were made to work hard in the closing stages, but as Hobbs Kessler of the USA edged his way ahead for the gold medal, the Briton swept up the silver medal to earn his place on the podium for the first time on the world stage.
Elson also ran inside the previous official mile world record with a time of 3:56.41 which was also a lifetime best for the Cambridge and Coleridge athlete.
An ecstatic Elson said afterwards, “It’s unreal – I just got stuck in. I ran with a bit of personality and authority. Someone has got to win, and I thought I had a good chance of winning it. If you ran that race ten times over, you’d get a different winner each time. But when we were coming into the final 100m and we were three abreast, I just thought if you don’t give it a go and try to win, you are going to go to bed tonight and regret it. So, I thought, ‘strike now and give it everything’. I just about held on for a medal. I was fading badly, so another 50 metres I would have been in a world of trouble.
“I got out hard on the first 400m. I took the first corner and was probably in the top five but between 400m and 1200m I’d gone back and back, but weirdly enough, the road just opened up and I got back with the group. I caught a second wind. In your mind as a runner, you can just tell if you have got one more gear. I could see the finish line so just decided to go for it, because I knew otherwise, I would regret it.”
He added, “You can run whatever times you want. Guys win races but not everyone wins medals. British distance running is stacked at the moment. You see Josh (Kerr) and Jake (Wightman) doing it on the track, so it is good to keep Britain up there, even if it is in a slightly different event.”
The Great Britain and Northern Ireland women’s quartet narrowly secured the team bronze medal with just 11 seconds separating them from South Africa in the cumulative final times.
Sam Harrison (Vince Wilson, Charnwood) and Calli Thackery (Hallamshire) started boldly as they kept with the leaders past the 10km point, taking turns at leading the field and also closing any gaps created by surges from the Kenyan and Ethiopian runners in the leading pack of eight.
Despite dropping back from the leaders after the 12km mark, the British duo remained in seventh and eighth for long periods as they led the British team charge.
Thackery maintained her form in the final kilometres to ensure seventh place in an excellent PB of 1:08:56, the first time she has dipped under 69 minutes for the 13.1-mile distance. It was also 30 years to the day since her father, Carl Thackery, also won team bronze at the 1993 World Half Marathon Championships.
Harrison was just caught by Morocco’s Rahma Tahiri in the final kilometre, but she crossed the line in ninth place in 1:09:26, while Clara Evans (Pontypridd) impressed as she came through in 22nd in a time of 1:10:53. Abbie Donnelly (Rob Lewis. Lincoln Wellington) was 25th across the line in 1:11:08 on her first road appearance for the British team.
After her career best performance, Thackery reflected, “I have been trying to get under the 69 minutes for quite a long time, so I am delighted to do it in a Championship race. I was at the back of the lead group for a bit, but I worked my way through, and I saw that Sam was leading the pack. That was amazing so I just thought let’s feed off each other. We have trained together so why not run together in a race as well. I wanted to put myself in it and I felt like I definitely did that today.
“The girls did brilliantly today. It has been a great atmosphere amongst the team during the few days we have been here. We all remained positive about our chances and backed ourselves, so we are all really pleased to win that bronze medal.”
On matching her dad’s achievements 30 years on, she added, “Watching him, he put himself in the mix, he was a gutsy runner. He was telling me before I came here that he looked on the paper before his World Half Marathon [in 1993] and saw there were people 2-3 minutes faster than him, but he put himself in it and came away with the team bronze, so I tried to feed off that today. I gave it a go, and I’m pleased it paid off.”
Earlier in the day, Verity Ockenden (Swansea) was the first Briton in action at the maiden edition of the Championships, going in the women’s 5km.
The 2021 European indoor medallist started well, settling into the chase group behind a group of nine athletes who opened up a significant gap in the opening kilometre. Ockenden, who set a PB of 15:26 at the Trial in Newcastle last month, continued to push on to head that chase group as she targeted a top 10 placing.
As the race unfolded, Ockenden got even quicker and she picked up the pace to clock an eight second personal best of 15:18 for eighth position overall.
Afterwards, she said, “We didn’t want to set too much of a fixed goal coming into this one, as you never know what to expect on the road, there are a lot more variables. I said to Chris [Thompson] last night that I would really like to be top 10 as an A goal, and top 15 as a B goal. I just kept it simple and ran my own race like I did in Newcastle. It is really fun to just go for it from the gun, it is a new tactic for me, but it is a style I am enjoying. PB and a top ten, I cannot ask for better.”
Scott Beattie (Mike Bateman, Morpeth) was also in PB form as he revised his road 5km best to 13:32 to earn a ninth-place spot in the world 5km event. The North-East based athlete put himself in an encouraging position early on as he joined a group of chasers to the Ethiopian duo of Hagos Gebrhiwet and Yomif Kejelcha – the eventual top two – who strung out the field in the opening kilometre.
Beattie continued to chip away at the field and eventually held off a crowded chasing pack to earn ninth place and the new road 5km PB; incidentally just seven seconds outside his track PB.
Post-race, Beattie – who earned his first GB&NI senior cap this weekend – said, “I am over the moon. I saw this as a chance to see where I stacked up against a lot of guys who were at the World Champs [in Budapest]. It was a big chance to put myself in with a shot amongst those guys who are at that next level to me. I am really pleased that I could work my way through to the finish and get in the top 10.”
Sarah McDonald (Andrew Walling, Birchfield) – in her first GB vest since 2019 after battling injuries over the last few seasons – returned to the fray with a 16th place finish in a highly competitive women’s mile race.
The race went out fast as Kenyan world record holder on the track, Faith Kipyegon, led the field over the opening 800m which pulled the field apart. McDonald remained in the top 20 for much of the contest, and ultimately came through for 16th in a time of 4:40.14. Kipyegon would be beaten to gold and silver by the Ethiopian duo of Diribe Welteji and Freweyni Hailu.
In the final event of the programme at the Championships, the men were the seventh team overall in the half marathon in a competitive race.
Mahamed Mahamed (Idris Hamud, Southampton) was the first of the British contingent across the line, just stealing a march on Israel’s Tadesse Getahon in the final few metres to take 27th place in 1:01:33.
Jack Rowe (Tim Eglen, Aldershot Farnham and District) was the leading Brit for long stages of the race, but he admitted he faded in the final kilometre to ultimately cross the line in a time of 1:01:39 for 30th.
Team captain Jonny Mellor (Liverpool) produced the best half marathon display of his career as he dipped under 62 minutes for the first time with a best of 1:01:59 to take 34th overall.