Great Edinburgh Cross Country: Fionnuala Britton front-runs to win

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AN IRISHWOMAN called Britton winning a race for Europe in Scotland. Although that may sound complicated, it was anything but for Fionnuala Britton, who stormed to victory in the last event of yesterday’s Bupa Great Edinburgh International Cross Country to claim an overall win for the European team.

The European champion even had time to fall coming out of the water jump on the last lap of the 6km race, and still won by an impressive 16-second margin. With Dutchwoman Adrienne Herzog in second, that was enough for Europe to overhaul an eight-point deficit going into the last race, to run out winners by 154 points to Great Britain & Northern Ireland’s total of 175. The third team in the competition, the USA, finished on 201.

Fionnuala Britton won the 10k race

Fionnuala Britton won the 10k race

Jess Coulson, the European junior champion, had tracked Britton for most of the three laps, but in the end was not strong enough to stay the pace. She was first Briton home in fourth, 25 seconds behind the winner. Scotland’s Steph Twell was 15th, 52 seconds slower than Britton, and just ahead of her compatriot Freya Ross.

“At first everyone was waiting for someone else to take the lead, so I just had to push on,” Britton said. “I didn’t think the race would go like that.”

Every cross-country runner knows what it’s like to fall in muddy conditions, but Britton suffered the ignominy of doing it in full view of the TV cameras in Holyrood Park, just a few hundred metres from the finishing line. “It was a tad embarrassing,” she added. “I had to concentrate on getting back up.”

In fact, she appeared to slide to her feet and then get back up in one fluid movement. With nothing twisted or sprained, she lost no more than a couple of metres from a lead which by then had stretched close to 100m.

Men's elite 8k winner Bobby Mack

Men's elite 8k winner Bobby Mack

For Twell, a former world junior champion, the event was less about trying to challenge up front and more about getting used to this level of competition again after two injury-ravaged seasons. “I was pleased today – it was a really strong run, I think,” the Commonwealth Games 1,500m bronze medallist said.

“I didn’t have great expectations of myself to begin with, and I didn’t know where I was going to be against all these great girls who had just been at the Europeans [last month]. The pressure wasn’t on me today, so I was able to enjoy the race, and I felt like I gave it a good go.

“This is the hardest race out there, both because of the strength of the field and the nature of the course. When it’s saturated, with thick mud, and also difficult terrain, it makes your heart and lungs work really hard.”

For Ross, whose main event is now the marathon, 6k is hardly long enough to get into her stride these days. But she was still disappointed by her lack of sharpness. “Not great,” was her verdict.

“I’m a bit disappointed, really. I gave it my best shot, but I’m just getting back to full fitness. I wanted to come out and get a good run out, and I would have liked to finish higher up. But at least I gave it a shot, and hopefully later in the season when it really matters, for the marathon, I’ll be fitter.”

In the men’s 8k, Great Britain’s Tom Humphries made a valiant attempt to stay clear of the field after establishing an early lead over the four laps. Even with 400m to go the Englishman was still out in front, only to be overtaken by a powerful burst from last year’s winner, Ayad Lamdassem of the European team. The Spaniard seemed to have victory in his grasp, only to have it snatched from him by the 2012 runner-up, Bobby Mack of the USA, who timed his run for the line perfectly to win by a second. Andy Vernon also overtook his GB team-mate on the home straight to claim third place.

“Last year I got caught off guard, so this year I wanted to be in the mix a little bit more,” said Mack, who also praised Humphries for his courageous front-running. “Tom was cutting all that wind himself – it’s a tough position to be in and it was an honourable thing to do.”

Earlier, the GB junior women had put the home team in a strong position in the match with a resounding victory in their race. The top six finishers were all British, with Emelia Gorecka winning from Jessica Judd and Rebecca Weston. Jonathan Davies was the leading Briton in the junior men’s race, coming fourth.

In terms of achievement on the track, the most impressive field of the day was in the women’s invitational 3k, which featured Olympic 5,000m champion Meseret Defar of Ethiopia and world 5,000 and 10,000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya. Cheruiyot had warned that she was well short of her best form, and so it proved as she ended up fifth.

But that did not mean Defar had everything her own way, and she ended up losing out to her fellow-countrywoman Genzebe Dibaba, the younger sister of three-time Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba. Defar was five seconds down on Dibaba, and five clear of third-placed Linet Masai of Kenya.

A third Ethiopian, Sofia Assefa, took fourth place, ahead of Cheruiyot, who shared her time with young Scot Emily Stewart. A steeplechase specialist, Stewart finished strongly to overhaul team-mate Lisa Dobriskey, the former world 1,500m silver medallist.