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christmas comes early for rhona auckland

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Rhona Auckland

24 December 2014

Christmas came early for Rhona Auckland (coach: Joyce Hogg) this year. On 14 December, she was crowned the European U23 Cross Country champion after a dominant display in Samokov to win her first ever European title.

The 21 year old competed in the U23 event at the 2013 championships, finishing in seventh but this year she produced a commanding performance by hitting the front on the penultimate lap and powering away from her competition to take the gold medal. It was quite a surprising victory for many and the Aberdeenshire woman admits that it still hasn’t sunk in.

Auckland said, “It definitely hasn’t (sunk in). I keep getting tagged in all these photos and seeing this girl on top of the podium and thinking, ‘who the hell is that?’

“I’m looking forward to going home and celebrating with my friends and family so I can soak it all up. I still haven’t had chance to watch the race – maybe once I have it will feel a little bit more real.”

The diminutive figure hit the front with two laps to go and gradually extended her lead over the muddy course to open up a significant gap. It was a brave piece of running from Auckland who confesses that her sprint finish wasn’t as good as some of the athletes in the field, therefore she knew that she would have to commit to leading it out to be in with a chance of winning a medal.

“I can remember quite clearly the feeling of being on my own and thinking, ‘oh no, what have I done’. I just remember thinking that I had to go for it. I felt really good for the whole race and knew I was in good shape so I was confident.

“I don’t have a great sprint finish but I know I can maintain a fairly hard pace for a long while, so I just wanted to do that and get away as far as I could. I knew this was my one chance so I had to go out there and commit. I was determined to cross that line knowing I had given everything I possibly could give.”

“My dad has this motto, ‘performance not outcomes’ – that’s what I tried to focus on.”

Although it may have appeared quite a comfortable win for the Banchory Stonehaven athlete, she was aware that the Bulgarian athlete Militsa Mircheva was finishing very quickly for second place and was being spurred on by the vocal home crowd.

“I was so grateful to Lily Partridge (Woods) because up until I saw her (near the finish line), everyone was telling me that I would be fine but Lily screamed at me that she (Mircheva) was finishing quickly, so that gave me the final boost to make it to the line first. I was pushing my legs as hard as I could but they just weren’t responding but thankfully I made it.”

Auckland enjoyed her moment on top of the podium and describes the whole experience as fantastic but incredibly emotional.

“It was pretty overwhelming. It’s cheesy but it’s one of those things you always dream about but never think it will happen. To be up there and see my parents and coaches in the crowd as the British flag went up was fantastic. I definitely won’t forget it.”

Not only did she have her individual moment on top of the podium but she also led the GB & NI U23 women’s team to the silver medal behind the Russians. She was joined by her team mates to collect her second piece of silverware of the day.

“It was really great to be able to share the experience with the girls. Sometimes the spotlight on you can be a little intimidating so it was nice to share that moment.”

The Great Britain and Northern Ireland team equalled their medal tally from the previous championships in Belgrade winning nine medals and finishing at the top of the medal table. Auckland enjoyed been a part of such a successful team and points to Steph Twell’s (Mick Woods) inspirational captains’ speech as being a particularly poignant moment of the weekend.

“Steph’s (Twell) speech the night before was just fantastic, and set us up well for the whole weekend. She highlighted that this event has been a stepping stone in other athlete’s careers (such as Mo Farah) and that it could be one for us as well. She inspired us all and created a great team spirit.”

After her successful Samokov trip, it was straight back to studying for the University of Edinburgh student who was sitting exams in Medical Science the week after the championships. However, amongst the revision, she received the news that she had been selected for the GB & NI team at the Great Edinburgh XCountry to be held on January 10. She was delighted to get a chance to run at Holyrood Park once again.

“I love it – it’s definitely one of my favourite events. It’ll be on home turf as well so it should be a great start to the year. It’s good to have a new focus to keep me going over Christmas. It’s a really strong team again so it’ll be great to be a part of it.”

The gold medallist will be targeting another fruitful year in 2015, and her main focus will be on earning selection for the European U23 Championships in Talinn, Estonia in July. In November this year, she lowered her 10k personal best to 33:03 at the Leeds Abbey Dash and will hoping to transfer her solid road and cross country form onto the track in 2015.

“My major aim will be to try and make the team for the European U23 Championships. I’ve got the 10,000m time so I’ve just got to try and better that or show some good form.

“I’ve never done the heats and final for a 5000m within two or three days before so there is an option to give that a go next year. I’ll have to see whether I aim for that at the U23s and how close I get to the qualifying time. The 10,000m is definitely where I see myself in the future but it would be nice to improve upon the 5000m before I focus too much on the longer distances.”

Auckland was treated to a few rest days after her triumph in Samokov, however, she is back into training now and determined to perform even better in 2015 and beyond.

“The first couple of days I didn’t want to leave the house. However, now I’m getting a little bored so I’m really looking forward to getting back into training over Christmas and the New Year.”