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Gorecka defends Edinburgh title

Emelia Gorecka

Emelia Gorecka

An individual first place finish in the junior race for Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s Emelia Gorecka (coach: Mick Woods) highlighted a good all-round display from the British team as they finished second overall against victors Team Europe and third-placed USA at the annual Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country International Challenge, narrowly failing to defend their team title from 2012.

European Cross junior silver medallist Gorecka led an historic GB & NI performance in the women’s junior race as the six British runners took a clean sweep of positions one to six at Holyrood Park.

Further highlights included third and fourth place finishes for Andy Vernon (Nic Bideau) and Tom Humphries (Phil Clamp) in the men’s senior race, a fourth place finish for European Cross under-23 champion Jess Coulson (Mick Woods) in her first senior race for GB & NI, and a breakout race for Scotland’s Emily Stewart (Ian Whyte) as she finished sixth in a world-class Women’s Invitational 3K.

Race reports, in the order that they happened, are below.

JUNIOR MEN – 6km (3 laps)

2012 UK Inter Counties Cross Country champion Jonathan Davies (Rob McKim) led the way for GB & NI on his international debut as he took fourth place in 19:07 after a battling run that saw him overtaken by the race’s eventual top three with 500m to go.

Davies had taken the lead and made a major push entering the race’s final kilometre, but an immediate response from the two Europeans and an American on his shoulder led to a thrilling sprint finish. Croatian Dino Bosnjak eventually took victory in 19:01 over Belgian Isaac Kimeli (19:02), with American Craig Nowak just metres behind in 19:03.

Calum Johnson (John Stephenson) (19:28) ran a strong race to finish second Brit in seventh overall, with Matthew Fayers (Stevan Dokic) in tenth (19:36) and Will Paulson (Christopher Frapwell) in 13th (19:37) rounding off the scoring Brits.

Henry Pearce (Mark Hookway) and Benedict Westhenry (Tom Watson) finished in 14th and 26th in 19:48 and 21:23 respectively, with the British team (34 points)  trailing slightly behind Team Europe  (16 points) and the USA (29 points) overall in the race.

Despite finishing top of the Brits and a solid fourth place finish, Davies, who narrowly missed out on European Cross selection after finishing seventh at the qualifier in Liverpool in November, was left ruing missing out on a podium finish.

“It was tough. I sat in behind the first two but on the last lap when I tried to stretch a bit I couldn’t. That’s the difference between a medal.”

JUNIOR WOMEN – 4km (2 laps)

World Junior 1500m bronze medallist Emelia Gorecka (Mick Woods) emphatically defended her 2012 title here in a time of 13:46, leading from the front as an incredible performance by the GB & NI team saw them take home the first six positions, dominating the race from start to finish.

World Junior 800m silver medallist Jessica Judd (Rob Denmark), who will celebrate her 18th birthday on Monday, finished around 75m behind Gorecka in second (13:46), with Rebecca Weston (James Roberts) producing an impressive run to finish well in third place in 14:01.

Alex Clay (Peter Mullervy) was fourth (14:04), a matter of metres ahead of younger sister Bobby Clay (James Roberts) (14:04), with Annabel Mason (John Mason) rounding off a memorable race in sixth place in 14:07, reiterating the strength of the British junior women’s cross country team that took gold at the European Championships in December.

Gorecka made her first and ultimately decisive break of the race after 1.5km and never looked back, gaining further distance over Judd – second throughout – as the race progressed.

Despite once again showing that she is one of Great Britain’s best cross country talents in years after a 21 second victory on the same course last year, Gorecka downplayed her achievement, instead looking ahead to the next major goal on her radar this winter.

“It was good. I really enjoyed it and the support is really good. I came into this race a bit cold but I felt good and I felt strong. There’s a lot more work to be done as the main aim is World Cross at the end of the season, so I’ve got time to build for that.”

SENIOR MEN – 8km (4 laps)

Tom Humphries (Phil Clamp) ran a brave solo race, leading for all but the final 300m of a thrilling 8km battle that eventually saw him finish in fourth position, overtaken by in-form GB & NI teammate Andy Vernon (Nic Bideau) in third, with last year’s runner-up Bobby Mack from the USA taking the victory in 24:27 ahead of last year’s winner, Ayad Lamdassem (24:28). 9-time European Cross Champion Sergei Lebid came home in fifth (24:32).

GB & NI men’s captain Steve Vernon (Dave Turnbull) followed last year’s seventh place in this event with ninth this year as the third finishing Brit in 25:02, whilst Jonathan Taylor (Gordon Surtees), Andrew Heyes (Keith Whitelam) and Neilson Hall (Philip O’Dell) finished in 16th (25:19), 17th (25:20) and 18th (25:26) as the remaining scoring Brits.

Further Brits included: Patrick Martin (Dave Turnbull) – 23rd in 25:46; Simon Horsfield (Norman Poole) – 26th in 25:56; Kieran Clements (Ricardo Santos) – 27th in 26:04; Adam Hickey (Eamonn Martin) – 28th in 26:05; Scott McDonald (Derek Easton) – 29th in 26:18; Dewi Griffiths (Kevin Evans) – 30th in 26:36.

Humphries’ decision to take the race on alone came after six minutes, and impressively, the chasing pack were unable to put a significant dent into his 30m lead for a full 15 minutes. Andy Vernon – 13th in December’s European Cross – ensured that he was in close proximity throughout, the only Brit in a pack of five within striking distance of the 28-year-old.

Humphries remained strong heading into the final lap with a gap of 25m, but with the distance shrinking throughout the final kilometre, American Mack and Europe’s Lamdassem pounced with the finish line in sight, battling for first position right until the line. Vernon, as is his trademark style, finished strongly for third and confirmed his return to peak form.

An exhausted Vernon said: “It was tough, tough all the way round, especially on the back bit as there were little tiny hills that were really hurting my hamstrings and there was some really stodgey mud and then you’d come back into the wind. It was tough.”

SENIOR WOMEN – 6km (3 laps)

In a duel of two European Cross champions – Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton the senior champion, GB’s  Jess Coulson (Mick Woods) the under-23 champion – it was pre-race favourite and European captain  Britton who came out on top in 20:40 as Coulson led the British team with a brave fourth place finish (21:05), having matched Britton stride for stride for the majority of the race.

British women’s captain and Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m finalist Julia Bleasdale (Nic Bideau),

finished strongly in her first cross country run in over a year as she secured eighth place (21:10). Lauren Howarth (Peter Riley) was tenth in 21:12, Elle Baker (Dave Turnbull) 13th (21:22), with Scots Rosie Smith (Bryan Mackay) and Steph Twell (Mick Woods) rounding off the six scoring finishers in 14th (21:30) and 15th (21:32) respectively.

Further Brits included: Beth Potter (Mick Woods) – 17th in 21:37; Freya Ross (Steve Jones) – 19th in 21:39; Emily Wicks (Keith Donkin) – 23rd in 21:53; Lily Partridge (Mick Woods) – 25th in 22:13; Katie Brough (Michael Hancock) – 27th in 22:25; Lauren Deadman (Bill Foster) – 28th in 22:38.

Britton and Coulson set a blistering pace from the onset, with a significant gap forming by the end of the first lap between the two of them and the chasing pack. They continued to push each other through the downhill sections and then the uphill Haggis on lap two.

Britton showed her class entering the final lap though, with a 20m gap over Coulson having developed. Despite being overtaken in the final 200m by Europe’s Adrienne Herzog and the USA’s Mattie Suver, Coulson was largely content with a run that showed her potential to rise to the senior ranks with success.

She said: “I’m not used to the logs so need a bit of practice on them but overall quite happy [sic]. It was a solid performance, my first for the GB [senior] team and it’s a strong team so I’m happy with that. I was looking for a solid performance, maybe top ten so I’m happy.”

The Stockport athlete was glad to have pushed Britton and is looking forward to more clashes in future – including next week’s McCain Antrim Cross Challenge.

“I’m glad I gave it a go, I’m nearly there. I’ve beaten her before but it was a great run by Fionnuala, all credit to her, so I’m happy I kept up with her.”

Non-team event: INVITATIONAL WOMEN’S 3km (2 short laps)

Scotland’s Emily Stewart (Ian Whyte) ensured her status as one to watch as she finished sixth (10:05) and top Brit against a world-class line-up in the Women’s 3km Invitational event, with Genzebe Dibaba, World Junior Cross Country Champion in Edinburgh in 2008, taking overall victory in 9:46 and the scalp of one of the all-time great distance runners, Olympic 5,000m champion Meseret Defar, who finished second (9:51).

Britain’s former World 1,500m silver medallist Lisa Dobriskey (Ricky Soos) finished in seventh place (10:07) in her first cross country race for three years.

In the shortest race of the day, a surprising opening half saw the British contingent in the lead, with Dobriskey and Stewart maintaining the pace up front.

With 1.5km to go the speed of the east African contingent was felt. Defar and Dibaba broke away for good with one kilometre to go – World 5,000m and 10,000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot, surprisingly, was unable to keep pace – with Dibaba taking the race by the scruff of the neck with 500m remaining and coming home five seconds ahead of her Ethiopian compatriot.

Stewart can have no complaints with a race that saw her finish just a metre behind Cheruiyot (10:05), who was a surprising fifth after coming into the race as co-favourite with Defar.

She said: “I’m really pleased. I really enjoyed that, all the music, support, quality field, everything. I’ve not been here for a while as I’m based in Newcastle, so it was great to come back. It’s good to see where I am with my endurance and I got a PB as well so I really enjoyed today.”


1st Team Europe – 154 points

2nd Great Britain and Northern Ireland – 175 points

3rd – USA – 211 points

Great Britain & Northern Ireland team manager Spencer Barden was pleased with the team’s results and believes that it bodes well for the rest of the winter season.

“It’s been a fantastic day in Edinburgh for the GB&NI team with some really strong performances, especially from the junior girls who dominated their race, as well as Tom Humphries and Jess Coulson who put in really gutsy performances in the senior races.

“Obviously I’m disappointed not to have successfully defended our title, but there are lot of positives to draw from today, especially the strength and depth of the squad. Looking ahead this winter, I believe that the GB & NI cross country teams are in a strong position as the World Cross Country Championships approaches.”