There was one fifth and three sixth place finishes for the Great Britain and Northern Ireland teams at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, Australia on Saturday 18 February.
Run in the shadow of the beautiful Mount Panorama but with temperatures up in the early 30s, it was very tough conditions for the athletes as they tackled Bathurst’s unforgiving 2km circuit. The challenging course featured Australian icon names such as Bondi Beach, The Boomerang, The Billabong as well as The Chicane and Through the Vines. The event ended abruptly as a thunderstorm hit the course and the senior men’s event was brought forward before a mass evacuation of the area.
The British team made a brilliant start to the afternoon’s proceedings with an impressive sixth place in the Mixed Relay event. With 2km for each leg and 15 nations participating, Joe Wigfield (Coach: Craig Winrow, Club:Wirral), making his senior debut, ran a strong first leg keeping the team in the pack. He said, “It was very tough; non-stop change of terrain; up, down then up again. There was one part in the Billabong area that was very muddy. My main aim was to keep us in contention at the change.”
Team captain, Alex Bell (Andrew Henderson, Pudsey and Bramley) took over with the team in sixth place. The Olympic 800m finalist, pushed on, briefly taking the team into fifth place, running neck and neck throughout her leg with USA’s Emma Coburn. Delighted with the team’s performance, she said, “It was definitely one of the hardest courses I have ever run especially in the quiet sections where you could switch off. But I stuck in there and I am so proud of the whole team.”
In the third leg, Callum Elson (Cambridge and Coleridge) ran well to keep the team in the middle pack and hand over to Alexandra Millard (Bill Foster, Invicta East Kent), also making her first senior appearance, who pushed on to ensure the team retained that sixth place despite a lot of pressure from New Zealand and Morocco.
The mixed relay gold went to Kenya with Ethiopia in second and, to the delight of the home crowd, Australia took the bronze.
The under 20 men’s team took a tremendous fifth place and highest European nation. Edward Bird (Mark Pauley, Poole AC) was first home for Great Britain and Northern Ireland in a brilliant 18th place, 26:10 for the 8k race. He was very proud of that achievement saying, “Of course we knew the conditions would be tough, but it really was brutal out there. The part around ‘Bondi’ was especially hard. I knew I could step up and be the first home for the team. We are all fantastic racers but I really thought this could be my time to shine. Sam (Mills) really helped me tapping me on the shoulder to stop me going off too fast.”
Not far behind at the downhill finish were Jacob Deacon (Katie Hewison, Chorley), who finished in 26th in 26:44, and Luke Birdseye (Shireen Higgins, Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow) in 28th in 26:52. Sam Mills (Exeter), who had taken fourth at the Euro Cross in December, just made the top 50 in 49th in 27:46.
Deacon added, “I think I was a bit too hesitant. I wasn’t sure how I would be in the heat, but I stuck in a group and we worked together an came home with the Americans. It was good experience, but I think next time, even in the heat, I could push it a bit. The team has done fantastically well and we can all be eligible for another year so watch this space!”
In the senior women’s event over 10k, Abbie Donnelly (Rob Lewis, Lincoln Wellington) and Amelia Quirk (Mick Woods, Bracknell) finished within three-hundredth of a second of each other with Donnelly building on her top-12 finish in Turin to take 25th in 35:53 with Quirk in 26th in 35:56.
Both were delighted with their positions on such a challenging course. Donnelly said, “I’ve never run in these conditions – much more used to snow, ice, rain so I am really pleased with how we did. Perhaps I’ll learn to love the heat now. I do feel proud as it was a really long journey, but this has made the 27-hour journey worthwhile. We timed it well and were able to pick off some athletes on that last lap despite the tiredness.”
Quirk added, “The Billabong was hard, but I did manage to go through and even overtake a few there. It was particularly pleasing to overtake some Aussies there as the crowd were very loud and supportive of all of us. I went out conservatively after speaking with my coach. We really took it on out there and we’ve nothing left and that’s how it should be.”
Poppy Tank (Alastair and Amy Cragg, City of Plymouth) was 37th in 36:47. The final senior woman, European U23 silver medallist Megan Keith (Ross Cairns, Inverness) found the going tough but battled through pain to finish 52nd in 38:32. This meant the British team secured sixth place.
The event was dominated as expected by Ethiopia and Kenya but there was a dramatic finish as favourite, Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey, fell 30m from the finish in a race won by Beatrice Chebet of Kenya.
World Mountain Running Championships silver medallist, Rebecca Flaherty (Karen Glerum, Bingley) was first Briton home in the 6k women’s under 20 race in 23rd place in 23:11 with debutant, Hannah Ryding (Giffnock North) just behind in 24th in 23:18.
After the race, Yorkshire based Flaherty said, “I am so happy with that – I was looking to top 50, maybe top 30 so to sneak inside 25 in the world is so good. My mountain experience helped with the hills, but I have never done a race with so much heat and sun. Our advice was to throw water over us at least three times and we did that. I ran a steady race and worked off the others especially on the hills where I could use my Yorkshire hills experience.”
Scotland based, Ryding added, “It feels surreal. Coming from Scotland I am not used to the heat, I am used to the cold. I was expecting it to be tough and it certainly was. I just wanted to stay in the pack at the beginning. The hills got to me a bit with the heat, but I am so pleased to be just behind Rebecca.”
Zoe Gilbody (John Skevington, Wreake and Soar Valley) came in 33rd in 23:51 with the final Briton, Megan Harris (Hayley Hemmings, Chelmsford) in 40th in 24:32. These solid performances contributed to an excellent sixth place for the team overall with the race dominated by Ethiopia and Kenya who took the first nine places.
The final event of the day, the men’s senior race, was brought forward due to an incoming thunderstorm which whipped up the wind on the course. In an incredibly strong field, Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo took the win in 29:15.
Britain’s sole athlete in the 10k race, Zakariya Mahamed (Idris Hamud, Southampton), who finished second in the under-23s in the Euro Cross in Turin moving up for his first senior cap, came in 76th in 34:05. He was disappointed with his performance but was really up against it with the very late change of start time and a storm coming in very fast giving an unexpected set of challenges for the athletes. He said, “I really struggled today out there. The conditions were getting so wild, but it is such a good experience for me and I will learn a lot from it.”
Team Leader, Eamonn Martin said, “The championships had their challenges from the tough course to the weather and changes to timings, but our team did us and themselves proud. I couldn’t be happier with the results, the work they have all put in is paying off and they will all gain so much from the experience. The athletes, especially the juniors, will benefit so much going forward after this.”