A surprise, but welcome, women’s team bronze medal brightened up a mixed day of Irish performances in Borovets as Fionnuala Britton battled to a sixth place finish at the European Cross Country Championships yesterday.
The expected mud bath never materialised as the temperatures dropped over the last couple of nights hardening the course. It still provided a very tricky challenge and one that should have suited Britton.
“For me it felt like a bit of a disaster,” agreed Britton of her own performance. The Kilcoole athlete led briefly after the first big lap in the Bulgarian mountains in Samokov but never got into a comfortable rhythm.
“I felt like I never got going and then when the girls came in and said we got third by a point I thought ‘oh my god I got caught by two people at the end if that drops us a place,” referenced Britton to dropping from 4th to 6th in the final run-in and fearing she may have cost the team a medal.
“It went from being really disappointed to kind of exciting to terrified that I was after losing it for everybody,” she continued.
“It’s a team sport and a team medal is the main thing but it’s not Budapest. And it will be hard to ever replicate that.” Budapest in 2012, of course, was her finest moment in an Irish vest where she won individual and team gold.
The race up the front when Britton was finally shaken off was a classic. Great Britain & Northern Ireland’s Gemma Steel and Kate Avery ran each other to the tape with Steel just having the extra gear at the end to win the title. Both were credited with the same time of 28:27 over the 7,913m distance.
Sweden’s Meraf Bahta had a storming last lap to snatch bronze in 28:52.
Britton came 6th in 28:59 which ended up triggering a good team performance with Sara Treacy having the best run of her career to finish 12th in 29:23 – just 24 seconds behind.
Treacy (Dunboyne) was well over a minute behind Britton at the Irish trials in Dundalk.
Leevale’s Michelle Finn came 23rd in 30:09 and team captain Annmarie McGlynn (Letterkenny) battled for 46th in 31:35 to round out the scoring and pip France by a single point.
When Ireland won team gold in Budapest they edged the French on countback. Siobhan O’Doherty (Borrisokane) and Laura Crowe (An Riocht) rounded out the team in 47th and 53rd running 31:45 and 32:26 respectively.
The British side dominated the team event as expected and tallied 21 points with Spain second on 70 points.
Britton was left with much to ponder and the challenge to get back on the podium in her favourite event.
“This was the focus of my winter until this point and I haven’t really thought anything past that,” she answered on her shift to the roads and a marathon. “I don’t think I want to do a marathon yet, as in build up to it. Probably at the end of the year (2015) and maybe world cross to make up for this (disappointment).”
The championship was a mixed bag in general with the obscure location highly questionable. There were few fans apart from a large Irish and British contingent. The Irish team set-up will have much to think about with the team bronze medal covering up the big challenges that face them to improve distance running in the country.
A mixed day of results and was summed up perfectly by Britton. “Very much mixed emotions, a team medal is a team medal and I just have to focus on that for now.”
Meanwhile Turkey’s Kenyan duo of Plat Kemboi Arikan and Ali Kaya went one-two in the senior men’s race.
They completely dominated the race from the start with Spain’s Ethiopian Alemayehu Bezabeh, a convicted doper, third.
Paul Pollock was first Irish man home in 23rd as the team finished 6th.
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