GB & NI on cloud nine in Samokov

Steel and Avery

Great Britain and Northern Ireland topped the medal table and equalled last year’s medal haul with nine medals at the European Cross Country Championships in Samokov, Bulgaria. This included individual gold medals for Gemma Steel (handicap -2.5) and Rhona Auckland (handicap -0.8) in the senior women’s and U23 women’s races respectively on a great day of cross country for the British team.

Steel won the elusive European Cross gold medal which had been missing from her collection after a close tussle with teammate Kate Avery (handicap -0.6), who claimed a silver medal in her first senior European Cross Country Championships. The two Britons took the lead at the half way point and exchanged positions on numerous occasions before Steel claimed the victory by a margin of just two-hundredths of a second.


After her gold medal triumph, Steel said: “I can’t believe it. I didn’t expect it to be a domestic battle in the end, but I think we helped each other along. My legs felt weak at the end and thought the altitude was kicking in, so I just needed to find that extra strength somewhere at the end.


“I thought ‘is she going to give in’ but she (Kate Avery) was really strong and I was feeling a bit weak to be honest. She had really good posture and I knew she wasn’t going to give it up without a fight, so I was thinking not silver again. Gold was the one I wanted and it’s great to have won it.”


The senior women took a commanding victory in the team event with Steel and Avery followed by team captain Steph Twell (handicap -1.1), who produced a strong performance to finish in seventh; Lily Partridge (handicap -0.3) in 11th, Sonia Samuels (handicap -0.5)15th and Elle Vernon (handicap -0.8) in 20th to win the team gold.


Auckland earned the victory of her career with a gutsy performance to take the gold medal in Samokov in the women’s U23 race. The 21 year old took the lead with one lap to go and extended the lead even further by the time she came into the finishing straight. The Scot was all smiles at the end as she guided her team to the silver medal as well.


The Banchory Stonehaven athlete said, “I’m absolutely delighted – I knew my strength was in the endurance side of things as I haven’t got the fastest start. I think the course was challenging enough to hold back and work my way through and I’m glad I did that.


“I didn’t think I come here and challenge for the gold. I was hoping to better on last year, which was seventh and I knew Emelia (Gorecka) would be strong. I just tried to stick with her and run a race like she does – I was pleased to be able to do that today.”


Alice Wright (handicap 20.9) on her debut for the GB & NI team finished in ninth ahead of Emelia Gorecka (handicap -1.4) in 12th, Maryse Haynes (handicap 0.4) in 15th, Katie Holt (handicap 1.0) 20th and Rebecca Murray (handicap 1.1) in 29th, which was enough to win silver for the team.


The junior women got the team underway in Samokov and despite conditions being hard underfoot, Jessica Judd (handicap -1.3) and Lydia Turner (handicap 0.6) won silver and bronze respectively in an impressive start to the day. Judd finished five seconds behind Turkey’s Emine Hatun Tuna with Birtley’s Turner moving from fourth into a medal position on the finishing straight.


Judd commented, “I am (delighted) – I’m always disappointed when it’s not first, but I think in a couple of hours, I’ll be over the moon. I think I tactically misjudged it a little and went probably a bit too hard on the long lap. I doubted myself for the first time this year – I think if it was just the British girls, I would have had the confidence to sit back and let in unfold, but I didn’t even know half the people in that race.”


The junior women also won the team gold overall after a commanding all round display with five athletes making up the top 15. Amy Griffiths (handicap 0.2) came through in fifth with Becky Straw (handicap 2.7) also in the top ten with an eighth place finish, while Phoebe Law (handicap 1.7) and Georgina Outten (handicap 0.9) were 14th and 26th respectively.


Ross Millington (handicap -5.5) produced a solid display on his European Cross Country senior debut with a composed fifth place finish. Despite the course cutting up towards the end of the day, a young senior men’s team equipped well with the conditions. Adam Hickey (handicap -5.1) negotiated his way through the field to finish inside the top ten in ninth with Bolton’s Tom Lancashire (handicap -5.3) 27th. Scottish duo Andrew Butchart (handicap -5.4) and Luke Caldwell (handicap -5.7) came through in 35th and 40th with Tom Wade (handicap -2.8) a place behind in 41st.


Jonny Hay (handicap -5.7) was fourth behind a Russian 1-2-3 to lead the team to the silver medal in the U23 men’s race. Callum Hawkins (handicap -5.6), the winner at the British Athletics Liverpool Cross Challenge last month matched his fifth place finish in the race with a solid performance in Samokov.


Marc Scott (handicap -3.6) produced a strong display crossing the line in seventh with Charlie Hulson (handicap -4.5) 15th and Jonathan Davies (handicap -4.4), in his first U23 race 30th.

The junior men’s team were full of debutants in a GB & NI vest in the second race of the day. Michael Vennard (handicap -2.0) in his last year in the age category pressed throughout and moved through the field over the first few short laps and eventually finished in 17th position. Welsh athlete, Jac Hopkins (handicap -3.1) finished two places back in 19th, with Kieran Wood (handicap -3.7) 23rd, Peter Chambers (handicap -3.3) 26th and Jonathan Glen (handicap -3.3) in 46th.


Unfortunately, William Gray (handicap -4.4) and Elliot Bowker (handicap -4.1) were forced to withdraw from their races following injuries sustained on the course from the U23 and junior men’s respectively,


British Athletics’ Performance Director Neil Black was delighted with the performance in Samokov: “To get four team and five individual medals is a great achievement and it’s really pleasing to equal last year’s medal haul and top the table once again.


“There have been some really encouraging performances here and we did what Steph (Twell) highlighted in her captains speech of making every position and second count.”


For full results from the European Cross Country Championships, please visit: