Gemma Steel wins the European cross-country title from British team-mate Kate Avery in Samokov (© Getty Images)
Silver became gold for both Polat Kemboi Arikan and Gemma Steel as last year’s runners-up stepped up to the top spot of the podium at the European Cross Country Championships in the Bulgarian skiing resort of Samokov on Sunday (14).
There was a real symmetry about the senior men’s and senior women’s races as they both came down to sprint finishes between team-mates.
In the men’s race Arikan just got the better of his Turkish team-mate Ali Kaya in the dash for the line. The bronze went to 2009 and 2013 champion Alemayehu Bezabeh.
The three medallists were a class above the field. They set a scorching pace on the muddy course that their continental rivals could not match and were 30 seconds clear by halfway. But it was Arikan who stayed strongest when it mattered most to edge the gold.
“I am very happy. It was my day,” he said. “I was determined at the end.”
Turkey also took the team gold for the first time ever from Spain and Italy.
British duo Gemma Steel and Kate Avery went shoulder to shoulder in a thrilling senior women’s race. The duo led from halfway and traded the lead from there on in, with neither able to shake the other.
In the final strides, Steel edged slightly clear and took the tape narrowly ahead of the gritty Avery, who recently won the prestigious NCAA title in Indiana, USA. For Steel it completed the full medal set having won bronze in 2011 and silver last year.
Sweden’s Meraf Bahta took bronze in another close finish from Belgium’s Alemensch Belete with former champions Sophie Duarte of France and Fionnuala Britton of Ireland just behind. Great Britain and Northern Ireland won team gold from Spain and Ireland.
“I’m over the moon,” said Steel. “I would have been gutted with silver; gold was the one I wanted. I didn’t expect it to be a domestic battle in the end. Kate was a bit of a shock.
“She was really strong and I felt quite weak. She was definitely up for winning it and I thought ‘she’s not going to give this up without a fight’. Neither of us was. My legs were weak at the end. I thought the altitude was kicking in, but I just managed to find some strength.”
Russians sweep under-23 race
There was an unprecedented medal sweep in the men’s under-23 race by Russia. The 1-2-3 was led home by Ilgizar Safiulin, also winner of the men’s under-20 race in 2011. He was joined on the podium by Igor Maksimov and Vladimir Nikitin.
Always in contention, the Russian trio kicked clear on the final lap with long-time leader Callum Hawkins of Great Britain fading to fifth, just behind team-mate Jonathan Hay. Unsurprisingly, Russia won the team title from Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Sweden won bronze.
Rhona Auckland caused a minor surprise as she won the women’s under-23 race, when her British team-mate and twice under-20 champion Emelia Gorecka might have been more fancied.
But the Scot was a worthy champion as she improved by six places on last year’s result. Running a tactically mature race, she gradually worked her work through the pack to lead at the bell and then maintained the tempo right through to the finish to take the gold.
Much to the delight of the home crowd, Bulgaria’s Militsa Mircheva sprinted to silver ahead of long-time leader Gulshat Fazlitdinova of Russia. “I am absolutely delighted,” said Auckland. “I knew my strength was in the endurance side of things.
“I’ve not got a fast start and I thought the course was challenging enough to work my way through and I am pleased I managed to do that. I thought it was a great course; it was great for it to be not dead pan-flat for a change. It was a really a good cross-country course.”
The team title went to Russia ahead of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, reversing the 2013 result. Turkey claimed bronze.
Tuna nets junior gold
Emine Hatun Tuna won her first major title in the junior women’s race, resisting a final-lap surge by Britain’s Jessica Judd. Tuna led the early charge with Germany’s Alina Reh. Commonwealth Games 800m finalist Judd moved up to the challenge the pair on the last lap.
But Tuna, sixth in the 3000m at this summer’s World Junior Championships, kept strong and pulled away again to win by 20 metres by the finish. Judd took silver with team-mate Lydia Turner taking bronze as Reh faded to fourth.
Britain won the team gold for the fifth successive year. It was the 12th time in the past 15 editions of the European Cross that they have taken this particular title.
In the junior men’s race, world junior 1500m finalist Yemanebernane Crippa of Italy took the individual gold after a well-measured run. That was in stark contrast to Russian Alexsandr Novikov who miscounted the laps and sprinted for the finish one lap early. Rather than running for gold, he faded badly to 55th by the finish.
On the Russian’s misjudgement, Cripps said: “I took the moment and went to the finish line alone. I am so happy to be European champion. I cannot believe it.”
Spain’s Carlos Mayo took silver with Crippa’s team-mate Said Ettaqy outsprinting Spaniard Ayoub Mokhtar for bronze. Italy also just got the better of Spain to take the team title with Turkey pipping France for bronze.
Chris Broadbent for the IAAF