Britton blows rivals away

FIONNUALA BRITTON produced the performance of her life to win the BUPA Great Edinburgh cross-country race on Saturday, leaving the best runners from Europe and the US gasping behind her over the hilly and muddy Holyrood Park course.

The 27-year-old Wicklow woman destroyed the field to win the European cross-country title in Slovenia last month but this was an even more impressive performance as she took control after the opening 2km lap, which was covered in 7.20. Up to that point she had been surrounded by the Great Britain team that included Stephanie Twell and Gemma Steel, who finished third behind her in the European championships.

As Britton began to turn the screw, Steel was the only competitor who could respond before she too collapsed under the pressure applied with every stride by the Irish woman.

Britton completed the tough 8k in 21:32, winning by 20 seconds from Steel, with another British runner, Elle Baker, third in 22:08 and the American captain, Neely Spence, fourth in 22:11.

Britton admitted “Over the last day and a half I felt the pressure (of being European cross-country champion). You have the Europeans, you have Christmas and you have the New Year and you have to race again and this is a big event. I knew everyone would want to chase me down so I knew I would have to run a strong race.

“I didn’t know what kind of shape I was in coming here. You do the training over the last few weeks but you are doing it in between everything and with the weather being the way it is — windy and everything — you can’t really measure anything so it’s nice to come out here and see how strong you are. Now I have begun to look towards the track and the Olympic Games and I’ll try and get (qualifying) times for the 5k and 10k for London. I have the qualifying standard for the steeplechase but I have been told for a good few years that I need to move up in distance and I suppose I have finally accepted that.”

Steel could only throw up her arms in despair as she crossed the line knowing that she had run the race of her life.

“I have to be happy with my performance, taking everything into account, but Fionnuala was really strong today,” she said. “I take my hat off to her. “I tried to use different tactics today than those I used at the European cross-country championships — tried to stick with Fionnuala for as long as I could. I did everything I could have done but she has just been phenomenal today.”

Britton will be in action against many of the world’s best at the IAAF Cross-Country Permit Meeting in Seville on Sunday. She then plans to run the Antrim International Cross-Country a week later on January 21 and, next month, she will return to Abufeira for the Almond Blossom Cross Country.

Joe Sweeney, who was fifth in the European cross-country championships in December, finished 11th in the men’s 8k race as a member of the European team after disputing the early lead with Belgium’s new European Cross Country champion, Atelaw Bekele. European silver medallist, Ayad Lamdassem, turned the tables on Bekele, winning in 25:44 with Bobby Mack, coming through to snatch second place from Bekele with both timed at 25:47.

The other Irish member of the European team, Mark Hanrahan(Leevale), finished down the field while the teak tough Clonmel teenager, Sean Tobin, finished sixth in the junior men’s race.

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