Britain have weaved a wealth of tradition at the European Cross Country Championships through the years and the contingent of harriers that travelled over to Velenje, Slovenia, showed eager to uphold and add to the legacy left to them from day one, performing with flying colours.

Emelia Gorecka surged through from behind to clinch victory in the late stages of the U20 women’s race to a dream start for the squad and Richard Goodman followed up swiftly in an inspirational battling display for silver in the equivalent men’s affair before a sweeping foray by the U23 girls led by a flying Emma Pallant ensured of the top place in the medal table as early as halfway through the racing programme on Sunday.

The final end product comprising 6 golds, 5 silvers and a bronze easily surpassed the pre-championships target and made for a jubilant return home of the team draped in medals and glory.


Senior Men

The blue ribbon event, as Brendan Foster dubbed it during Sunday’s commentary, turned somewhat of an anticlimax as the British seniors never really got into the main action and were very much sunk into the large field stretched out over the course.

And if there was a reprieve of a team silver in the end it felt against the flow of the race and was owed mainly to the perpetual workrate of the lesser lights of Ryan McLeod and James Walsh to grind out crucial, as it proved, 13th and 15th places at the end.

Main medal hope Andy Vernon, an eventual ninth, got ensnared towards the middle of the pack in a beguiling, even uninspiring at times, race and only read the situation when he had slipped well behind a chasing group effectively battling for the minor medals adrift of a runaway victor Atelaw Bekele (Belgium).

The last, admittedly even beyond his own expectations, made the most of a free ride he was allowed way out in front after the third kilometre into the race, taking his chances as everyone else seemed unwilling to commit, and was fully rewarded for his enterprise to do his illustrious name full credit with a comfortable win.

Former multi-winner Sergey Legid (UKR) was never a factor and finally dropped out as Spaniard Ayad Langassem, who broke up out of the medals over 10000m in Barcelona last year, and Jose Rocha (POR) got silver and bronze while Andy Baddeley endured a quiet noon well back in 25th place, with Mark Draper a few spots ahead.


British placings: 9.Andy Vernon 29:39, 13.Ryan McLeod 29:45, 15.James Walsh 29:46, 22.Mark Draper 29:51, 25.Andy Baddeley 29:57, 37.Frank Tickner 30:24

Team 2nd 59pts

Full Results


Senior Women

Gemma Steel turned in a performance as solid  in material as her surname to accomplish her finest feat in her short international running career in the shape of a battling bronze behind a commanding Fionnuala Britton (Ireland), stamping her authority on the contest from the early days.

The John Nuttall-coached Brit showed content to stay off the hot early pace up front and work her way up the field gradually along with Scot Freya Murray to move into the top ten positions by the second lap, a rather shaky Hattie Dean tracking them a little further behind.

Steel’s patient waiting game and industry didn’t take long to pay dividends picking off one after the other the leading pack who were suffering under the hammer of the Irish’s relentless tempo and tapering off, moving first past Portugal’s Dulce Felix into third and then round Italy’s Nadia Ejjafini into the silver medal spot midway through the penultimate lap – the duo having run 2h25:40 and 2h26:15 in the marathon recently.

Her confidence high now, she even drew within striking distance of Britton approaching the bell and momentarily looked as though she could pull off a major shocker but her rival had still plenty left in the tank to move up another gear and away nonchallantly to a commanding victory.

Steel came under a powerful attack by Felix, who had somehow conjured up a reserve of strength to charge back into the medals, round the last lap to be eventually edged out of silver in the fading stages of the race, but that could hardly take anything away from a brilliant performance and a well-deserved bronze – her smile told the whole story in the end.

What’s more, Murray, Julia Bleasdale and Elle Baker pulled their weight nicely around to come behind in succession from 12th through to 14th place and ensure the British outfit of a further team gold – a fitting birthday present for the last the following day.

An off-colour Dean trailed well behind for a disappointing 18th outside 27 mins but hopefully that will turn out simply a bad day at the office for her.

British placings: 3.Gemma Steel 26:04, 12.Freya Murray 25:51, 13.Julia Bleasdale 26:58, 14.Elle Baker 26:59, 18.Hattie Dean 27:07, Emily Wicks DNF

Team 1st 42pts

Full Results


U23 Men

James Wilkinson showed that he is coming of age and firmly on track to take up the reins and lead British steeplechase out of the shadows as he delivered an assured, inspirational performance over the course of Velenje that was bested only by the brilliance and superior footwork of French miler Florian Carvalho in the late stages.

The event offered two sharply contrasting sides as runners looked happy to virtually parade in large numbers around and none interested to take the initiative for the best part, the Russians showing some unconvincing intention to control things from the front, and sparked to life only towards the end of the penultimate lap when the Briton drifted ahead.

Looking round to identify his surroundings, he took a few moments to make up his mind and then forged ahead to quickly break up the field with fellow ‘mohawk’ Briton Mitch Goose slotting in behind him, acting like a shield.

Into the final circuit, ‘Wilco’ piled on the pace to narrow the contenders down to four, Goose dropping behind, looking strong but could offer nothing when Carvalho employed his mile speed to surge past into the front and swiftly carve out plenty of daylight on his rivals, tearing along to a comprehensive victory by a good three seconds.

Meanwhile, the battle for the lesser silverware was winding up behind as Norwegian Sondre Moen temporarily showed to have made a decisive move for silver with German Richard Ringer shadowing third and Wilkinson having dropped fourth now.

Nevertheless, the Briton hadn’t said his final word as he dug deep on his steeplechase strength to power past his opponents off the last turn and clinch the runner-up spot himself in awesome fashion, with Moen finally settling for bronze – a display suggesting that a move into the 8:20s over the barriers is well on the cards come summer.

Goose came a creditable eighth some way behind and combined with a useful account by Derek Hawkins back in 26th draw Britain second in the team standings for an additional silver.

British placings: 2.James Wilkinson 23:47, 8.Mitch Goose 23:57, 26.Derek Hawkins 24:18, 40.Phillip Berntsen 26:32, 41.Matt Gillespie 24:32, 45.Matt Graham 24:35

Team 2nd 76pts

Full Results


U23 Women

The British girls were highly tipped to conquer the summit of Velenje and turned equal to their ranking on the day although a sweeping victory arrived from a rather unexpected source, with an inspired Emma Pallant turning in a sensational performance.

The 22-year-old athlete hadn’t really sparkled since a promising track season opener of 4:09.96 over 1500m well back in Rabat in May 2009, albeit a bronze medalllist in Albufeira last year, and slipped down the pecking order even in her own training group of Mick Woods’s golden girls but her resilience carried her through to come up with a real statement that she is back to her best.

It was Steph Twell that began a long drive for home past the bell, in a venture to craft a fairytale return to the international scene, and was quickly joined up front by Pallant and a surprisingly fluent and composed Naomi Taschimowitz, who has been swiftly rising through the British distance ranks.

The three Britons combined well to open up a considerable lead on a small chasing group formed behind, comprising Germans Corinna Harrer and Anna Hahner as well as Ukrainian Victoriya Pohoryelska, and looked briefly as though they were pulling away for a clean sweep of medals.

However, as the last lap rolled on Twell was struggling to sustain her pace at the front and the pursuing trio paid heed to claw their way gradually back, whereon Pallant sensed the danger to strike out for home in a decisive move.

Rather surprisingly, none could muster any sort of response as the AFD runner poured on the pace to nonchallantly dominate the field, crossing the line full of running with a good five seconds to spare in 19:57. On this evidence, she could emerge as a serious contender for a place in the 5000m for Britain in London.

As if bearing years of experience on her shoulders, Taschimowitz once more timed her own effort and kick to perfection to wrap up a brilliant breakthrough display with silver whereas Twell was, sadly, pipped out of bronze by Harrer in the dying stages, yet another big step in quick succession back to her best form with a consolation of a comfortable team gold in the end.

Hannah Walker, topping the U23s in Liverpool a fortnight before, endured an uncharacteristic low flight in just seventh and Lauren Howarth came 13th as all six Britons figured in the top 20 for an impressive demonstration of strength in depth.

British placings: 1.Emma Pallant 19:57, 2.Naomi Taschimowitz 20:02, 4.Steph Twell 20:03, 7.Hannah Walker 20:12, 13.Lauren Howarth 20:34, 20.Lily Partridge 20:58

Team 1st 14pts

Full Results


U20 Men

British placings: 2.Richard Goodman 17:51, 8.Jonny Hay 18:09, 9.Kieren Clements 18:10, 11.Niall Fleming 18:18, 17.Mark Shaw 18:27, 25.Jack Goodwin 18:33

Team 1st 30pts

Full Results


U20 Women

British placings: 1.Emelia Gorecka 13:13, 6.Annabel Gummow 13:34, 16.Gemma Kersey 13:53, 17.Katie Holt 13:56, 31.Laura Muir 14:06, 33.Beth Carter 14:07

Team 1st 40pts

Full Results


(more later..)