The spectre of country-hopping raised its head again at the European Cross-Country Championships in Sardinia as the top two in both the senior men’s and women’s races were Kenyan-born, recently-recruited Turkish athletes.
For the second time in six months, Fionnuala McCormack found herself relegated out of the medals in such circumstances, as she finished fifth in the senior women’s event, where she was bidding in the seaside resort of Chia to become the first athlete to take this crown three times.
The start was ominous, with Yasemin Can - European 5,000m and 10,000m double-winner from this summer’s Championships in Amsterdam – hitting the front early on with compatriot Meryem Akda.
They edged out ahead of the rest with McCormack leading a tight chasing bunch that also included Karoline Grovdal of Norway and Ancuta Bobocel of Romania, a past underage winner at the Europeans.
With Can outsprinting Akda to win by ten seconds, McCormack found herself outpaced in the closing straight and fell to fifth as Grovdal pushed through to win the bronze, as Bobocel finished a couple of paces clear of the Wicklow athlete to take fourth.
McCormack missed out on bronze by two seconds, and returned to a theme from the summer after the race: “I think it’s a problem and it’s not just Kenya-to-Turkey.
“I also don’t think a transfer of allegiance is the biggest problem. There are way more problems out there.
“I do think we can’t just ignore it – something must be done.
“I can’t do anything about it. Someone else has to do something about this.”
Ireland were sixth in the team category, having been fourth and seven points off the medals with a lap to go.
Ciara Mageean, 1500m bronze-medallist in Amsterdam, was 31st, with Michele Finn 33rd, Kerry O’flaherty 54th, Shona Heaslip 58th and Laura Crowe 60th.
Calls for the European Athletics Association’s probe into country-hopping to be speeded-up are likely after Turkey also took the top two positions in the senior men’s race, once more seeing two recently-secured Kenyan athletes decimate the field.
Gold here going to Aras Kaya ahead of Polat Kemboi Arikan, with Callum Hawkins leading a trio of British athletes home in third, fourth and fifth.
Ireland put in an underpar display here with Paul Pollock the top Irish finisher in 36th, ahead of Mick Clohisey in 43rd, Mark Christie 56th, Liam Brady 62nd, Mark Hanrahan 65th and Kevin Dooney 69th.
Jack O’Leary kicked off the day with a very creditable sixth-place in the junior men’s race.
O’Leary, whose father is the Gigginstown powerhouse horse racing trainer Eddie, was second at one stage behind home Italian athlete Yohanes Chiappinelli.
The Italian found himself overtaken by the latest member of the great Norwegian athletics family, Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who won by eight seconds, despite being the youngest in the field.
Britain’s Mahamed Mahamed was third.
Former schools mile champion O’Leary was battling among a second group of three athletes behind the top trio, but was run out of it by Frenchmen Jimmy Gressier and Mohamed-Amine El Bouajaji.
O’Leary’s time of 17 minutes 21 seconds was only 15 seconds behind winner Ingebrigtsen, with Ireland taking sixth in the team category.
He said afterwards that taking tips from the equine form of racing was a big help: “It’s been a nice career, I don’t really know how it happened but it’s fabulous.
“The curve is still going very steeply upwards.
“This is our Cheltenham, so you’re racing against the best.
“It you’re sitting back, you’re not giving it a go, so I’m happy I gave the gold medal a crack.”
History was made in the junior women’s race as defending champion Konstanza Klosterholfen became only the second athlete to successfully defend this title, after Steph Twell did it at the end of the noughties.
Amy-Rose Farrell in 24th was top Irish finisher, with Carla Sweeney 30th, Sophie Murphy 38th, Aisling Joyce 55th, Emma O’Brien 64th and Jodie McCann 72nd.
Ireland chose to send only two athletes in each of the Under-23 races.
The women’s was won by Poland’s Sofia Ennaoui, with Bethanie Murray 46th and Amy O’Donoughue 48th.
Issac Kimeli of Belgium – who moved to the country as a young child and who came through the Belgian system – was crowned U23 men’s winner as Ireland scored a 59th place through Karl Fitzmaurice and 67th via Mitchell Byrne.