Great Britain and Northern Ireland won five team gold medals at the 2019 SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Lisbon to top the medal table once again.
Some excellent team performances saw the senior men, women and mixed relay teams’ triumph in the team standings, while both junior squads started off the day supremely, capturing the titles after several strong displays.
Top ten placings for Andrew Butchart (coach: self-coached; club: Central) and Ben Connor (Derby) in fifth and ninth respectively combined with a priceless 22nd place for Kris Jones saw the British team finish ahead of Belgium to win team gold.
Olympic finalist Butchart ran efficiently throughout, staying in close contact with the leading group over the first half of the race, and staying within reach to claim a hard-fought fifth in 30:38, as Connor clocked 30:47, with the Swede Robel Fsiha taking the gold medal.
Patrick Dever (Andy Bibby; Preston) was not too far behind in 26th while team captain Adam Hickey (Eamonn Martin; Southend) battled hard for 36th position. Tom Evans (Allison Benton; Belgrave), a world medallist from the world trail championships in 2018, performed solidly at his first European cross-country championships, crossing the line in 44th.
After finishing as the top Briton in the field, Butchart reflected: “Firstly, I’m buzzing for the team, to get a gold medal is incredible. Individually, it is hard. I’ll take fifth place on such a hard course. It didn’t really suit me on paper but I’m happy with how I did.
“It was chaotic – there were a lot of bodies in such a small space. It was a matter of trying to get through as many people as you could and once you were at the front, hanging on for as long as you could. I was so close yet so far. This course is so short and tight, it feels like you are miles away from a medal, but you are actually pretty close, but that is cross country.”
The Scottish athlete added: “There is something special about the European Cross Country Championships, it’s exciting, it’s exhilarating. Missing last year was hard so I made sure I was here this year.
“Adam Hickey has done a great job as team captain, he’s kept the spirits high, so to win a team medal is very special for all of us.”
After dominating the trials in Liverpool a few weeks ago, Jess Judd (Mick Judd; Blackburn) carried on where she left off, leading the senior women to the team gold following her sixth place finish in 28:05, while teammate Charlotte Arter (Chris Jones; Cardiff) was two seconds behind in seventh. Abbie Donnelly (Rob Lewis; Lincoln Wellington) was the third and final counter for GB & NI in 13th in 28:40 to confirm the team gold medal for the squad.
Arter was the early leader for the Brits, holding a solid position in the chasing group which was sitting behind eventual winner Yasemin Can (TUR) and silver medallist, Karoline Grovdal (NOR). She battled hard to keep in the hunt for bronze, however, with two laps to go, she faded slightly from medal contention but had eyes on a high position to contribute to the team standings. Judd came alongside her in the last couple of laps and pushed on to ultimately take sixth.
Donnelly built into the race, taking the scalps of several athletes to seal 13th which confirmed the teams placing at the top of the rostrum. Amy Griffiths (Rob Denmark; Aldershot, Farnham & District) showed her good form for 15th, subsequently followed by Jenny Nesbitt (Chris Jones; Cardiff) in 29th and Kate Avery (Shildon) coming home in 30th.
Judd, after her sixth-place finish, said: “This is a really nice and close-knit team, so I’m pleased we could win the gold. It was such a difficult course, it was just constantly up and down hill.
“Seeing all the British support out on the course was amazing. It really helped me around the course. I felt like I entered hell on that last lap, but we put all the work in for moments like that, so I’m so happy and to round off the championships like that is amazing.”
The pre-race favourites lived up to their billing as the British team won gold in the mixed relay to regain the title that they won back in 2017.
Sarah McDonald (David Harmer; Birchfield), who was part of the team in Samorin that won the inaugural title, ran the first 1500m leg superbly, handing over to James McMurray (Deborah Steer; St Albans AC) in unison with the Belarus team. The latter were the closest competition to the Brits over the rest of the contest but in truth, they never looked like overhauling the quartet won earned a dominant victory.
McMurray handed over to Alex Bell (Andrew Henderson; Pudsey & Bramley) who turned the screw on lap three to give Jonathan Davies (Luke Gunn; Reading) a healthy lead which he maintained until the finish line as he captured another gold medal at these championships after previously winning the individual U23 title back in 2015, cutting the tape in 17:55.
McDonald commented after the race: “It was a lot warmer than Samorin but a lot hillier. The race spaced out a bit, so we weren’t altogether at the changeover which gave the rest of the team a good shot to keep building on that momentum. It was a bit nerve-wracking as it’s a long time since I’ve been on the start line, but it was good to be back and winning the gold medal.”
The junior men’s team kicked off proceedings in Lisbon in style, winning the team gold medal with Charles Hicks (Ricardo Santos; Stanford) leading the way as he placed fifth overall in 19:05, while Matt Willis (self-coached; Wrexham) and Zakariya Mahamed (Southampton AC) were ninth and eleventh in 19:19 and 19:20 respectively.
The Brits packed well early on with the top trio of Britons among the leading group early on and the youngest team member William Barnicoat (Trevor Raggett; Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow) – at 16 years-old – also starting the four-lap course well.
Approaching the halfway point, Willis hit the front with his compatriot Hicks also featuring alongside the impressive Jakob Ingebrigtsen who would go on the claim his fourth consecutive European Cross Country Championships junior title.
Hicks took fifth as Willis and Mahamed followed him home in ninth and 11th as they completed the top three counters, with Barnicoat was 22nd on his debut. Hamish Armitt (Giffnock North) was 31st and Matthew Stonier (Peter Mullervy; Invicta East Kent) crossed the line in 72nd.
Hicks said afterwards: “It wasn’t the plan [to be near the front early on]. Coming into the race, I knew how talented the field was, so the expectation was to sit back and ride the hills and then see how you can creep up near the end. I am very new to this level of racing, I haven’t finished college yet, so coming from high school to this, I got sucked up in it a bit. I thought, how can I not go with them? I I’m glad I went with it, it was worth it.
“It is a brilliant experience which hasn’t really settled in for me yet. I feel incredibly honoured to have been given this opportunity. I’m absolutely over the moon.”
After originally been awarded the team silver medal, heartbreak turned into unbridled joy as the British junior women’s team were given to team gold 20 minutes after the original faulty result.
The British team featured heavily near the front of the field throughout the race, and although the leading group of five did not contain any Brits, they were lining up behind ready to strike. With Izzy Fry (Mick Woods; Newbury) and Saskia Millard (Luke Gunn; Herne Hill) the two leading protagonists in the top ten over the three laps, it was the former who pushed on in the closing stages to take sixth place overall.
Millard moved into 11th after a frantic finish saw the French woman Flavie Renouard overhaul her with a mere few metres left, and Amelia Samuels (John Abbiss; Wolverhampton & Bilston) was the third and final counter for GB & NI in 12th.
Backing up their teammates, Cara Gemmell (Henry Muchamore; Team East Lothian) was 17th, while Megan Keith (Ross Cairns; Inverness) 27th and Olivia Mason (Graeme Mason; Border) was 45th.
While the Italians were initially given the team gold despite earning the same number of points as Great Britain & Northern Ireland, the result was amended belatedly to continue the junior teams great run of form over the last few years.
Top finisher for GB & NI, Fry said: “The first two laps were very quick. I was just trying to hang in there. The hills were really tough, a lot tougher than we were expecting yesterday. We all ran really well so we are happy with the result and win team gold.”
After some solid performances, the U23 women’s team claimed bronze behind Netherlands and Ireland, and the highest finisher for the team was Bronwen Owen (Andrew Henderson; Leeds City) who ran a smart race to clinch seventh place.
Owen picked off the field over the six-kilometre course to earn a very valuable top ten finish that contributed heavily to the team bronze medal. Amelia Quirk (Mick Woods; Bracknell AC) left everything on muddy terrain as she bagged 15th while Poppy Tank (Simon Anderson; City of Plymouth) grabbed 18th which saw the team make the podium.
Hannah Nuttall (John Nuttall; Charnwood) and Eleanor Bolton (Ribble Valley) were 31st and 33rd respectively while unfortunately, Cari Hughes (Andy Walling; Swansea) did not finish.
After the undulating contest, Owen said: “It was just relentless; it was such a fast race from the get-go. It was so savage going up the hills but I know I’m strong on the downhills, so I was trying to use that to my advantage. But there was no chance for recovery as we were straight up the hills again. It was quite a hard course to feel good on.”
The U23 men’s team narrowly missed out on a place on the podium as they finished fourth overall, just four points behind Germany.
The ever-consistent Mahamed Mahamed (Peter Haynes; Southampton AC) was the top finisher for the British team, placing eighth after a strong display in a race that became very stretched from the early stages. His teammate Alex Yee (Kenneth Pike; Kent) was just outside the top ten in twelfth as he battled around the course at Bela Vista.
The Scottish athlete Sol Sweeney (Andy Young; Perth Strathtay) was the third British counter in 29th while Euan Makepeace (Matt Roe; Charnwood) was next to finish in 56th. Despite a strong start on the opening lap, Emile Cairess (Philip Townsend; Leeds City AC) eventually came home in 60th while John Millar (Stephen Hicks; Ipswich) did not finish.
British Team medal tally (6):
Senior Men’s Team
Senior Women’s Team
Mixed Relay Team
Junior Men’s Team
Junior Women’s Team
U23 Women’s Team