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nine's the magic number

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Emelia Gorecka wins in Belgrade

Great Britain & Northern Ireland continued their dominance at the European Cross Country Championships on Sunday as they topped the medal table with a total of nine medals on a cold day in Belgrade, Serbia.  Emelia Gorecka rounded out her junior career on a high, winning the under 20 women’s race and leading her team to one of four team golds won by GB & NI on the day.

There was a dramatic finish to the final race of the day as Andy Vernon clinched a bronze medal in the final metres of the race and the GB & NI team won bronze by just six points. Vernon, a two-time under 23 medallist at these championships, rallied to close a six second gap on third place and won an almighty scrap with Belgium’s Jeroen D’Hoedt down the home straight to snatch the bronze medal by less than a second.

Tom Farrell held his position throughout the second half of the race to cross the line in 12th, and he was closely followed by Keith Gerrard in 20th and Adam Hickey, who caught a trio of rivals in the last hundred metres, in 25th to help the senior men clinch bronze. Charlie Hulson placed 37th on his senior GB & NI debut while Frank Tickner was 47th.

Having set himself the target of an individual medal before the race, Vernon was delighted to leave Belgrade with bronze: “It felt good to win a medal. It was fast from the start; I held on as much as I caught but with the gap forming I was at my limit from about four laps to go. I ploughed on and ticked the laps off then made a big effort in the last lap to close the gap.

“Coming round the top bend I went into third and I made a long run for home, the Belgian came past me quite quickly with about 150m but I sprinted as hard as I could and just got there. I didn’t leave anything out there today and it’s good to come away with something.”

In the senior women’s race, Gemma Steel held off the challenge of Portugal’s Dulce Felix and Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton to clinch silver, upgrading from the bronze she won in 2011, with France’s Sophie Duarte taking the title.

There was also team gold following sterling performances from Julia Bleasdale in seventh, Lauren Howarth 11th and Steph Twell 15th, with Katie Brough and Lauren Deadman 27th and 43rd respectively.

There was a similar story in the under 23 women’s race, where GB & NI put their four scoring runners in the first seven places to secure an emphatic team gold. They were led home by a resurgent Charlotte Purdue, back after a two year injury hiatus, who secured individual bronze, ahead of Kate Avery and Lily Partridge who were fourth and fifth, with Rhona Auckland rounding out the scorers in seventh. Olympic 1500m finalist Laura Weightman was seventh on her GB & NI cross country debut, with Jessica Andrews 16th, also making her debut.

There was further success in the under 23 men’s race as GB & NI secured yet another team gold, thanks to good runs from Luke Caldwell in fifth, Callum Hawkins seventh, Jonathan Hay 12th and Dewi Griffiths 16th. They were backed up by Richard Goodman in 21st and Jack Goodwin 33rd to keep the British momentum going.

The GB & NI junior men were left frustrated as lead runner Jonathan Davies just missed a medal in fourth place, the same result as the team standings. Behind Davies were Matthew Shirling in 15th, Michael Callegari 22nd, Alex Short 26th, Jack Crabtree 29th and Zak Miller, the youngest male athlete on the GB & NI team, 31st.

The day started with a bang though as Emelia Gorecka surged away from her rivals mid race to secure the first medal of the day, her fourth consecutive individual medal at these championships.

Of her convincing performance, Gorecka said: “I’m really happy. It was a really good race and the team ran really well. I said yesterday everything was similar to Slovenia two years ago where I won last time. The course, the conditions, the weather and what I wore was all building up to the same thing. So I was thinking it has be the time again to win. It was nice to sign off [her junior career] with a win but it was never going to be easy.”

Georgia Taylor-Brown finished an excellent fourth despite losing her shoe on the first lap. Next home for GB & NI was Bobby Clay in eighth, closely followed by Jessica Gibbon and Lydia Turner who were 11th and 13th respectively, with Amy Griffiths 47th on her debut.

British Athletics Performance Director Neil Black said:

“There were some incredible performances today. Team medals in lots of different categories as well as outstanding individual performances. Emelia Gorecka winning in her last year as an under 20 and Andy Vernon storming down the home straight to a photo finish and getting third place. There were absolutely brilliant performances all round”.