© Copyright
General News

Terrific comeback by Hungarian

Mark Butler for the IAAF

2000 Spar European Cross Country Championships, Malmö, December 10

The summer of 2000 brought grave news for Hungarian distance runner Katalin Szentgyörgyi. Not only had her Olympic ambitions been ended by a stress fracture, but the injury - to her right foot - was regarded as so severe that she was told she might not run again. The European Cross Country Championships in Malmö on Sunday showed how quickly things move on in athletics. Szentgyörgyi was crowned champion, and, at 21, became the first athlete to win the title as an under-20 and senior. Just two years ago in Ferrara she triumphed in the junior race.

Szentgyörgyi was always prominent in the women’s race, comprising four laps of varying terrain in a picturesque area which was once the domestic airport of Malmö. On the penultimate lap, four women had broken clear - Szentgyörgyi, Olivera Jevtic (YUG), Alesya Turova (BLR) and Portuguese newcomer Analidia Torre. By the bell, less than one mile from the finish, Turova had been dropped, 10 seconds behind the leading trio. Portugal, with three among the first nine, were clearly heading for the team title, but which one of the leading trio would take gold? At one point all three seemed to be making their finishing charges, but they remained locked together as they sped round the lake of the Bulltofta recreation ground.

Around 400m from the finish, the course turned into an uphill loop, and it was on the ascent that the blonde Szentgyörgyi broke clear. Torre gave chase, but the Hungarian did not falter and held on for a clear win. Jevtic collected her fourth successive bronze, a remarkable record of consistency. Did Szentgyörgyi expect to win? "yes," she beamed. "I have been looking forward to this since I started my preparations in September," explaining that her injury had cleared up after three months without running. "A lot of people said my career was over," she revealed. "But I never felt like that."

The new champion exhibited plenty of charisma as she told the story of her win. "I always wanted to be a runner," she explained, "because in Hungary we don’t have many good distance runners." What were her thoughts on that final hill? "Hills are the best thing about cross country. Most people don’t like them but in Hungary we have plenty of hills, and I have the power to deal with them."

Szentgyörgyi, a resident of Szeged, has won European golds in three of the last five years. She won the junior 5000m in 1997, followed by her cross country victories in 1998 and this year. The winter has been unseasonably warm in Sweden. The temperature reached 10°C and the rain forecast for Sunday held off. In fact, the sun broke through during the senior men’s race. The weather may have been unusual, but the outcome of the eight-lap race was not. For the fourth time in seven editions, Paulo Guerra became European Cross Country Champion. Just like Szentgyörgyi the 30-year old Portuguese missed the Olympics through injury and resumed training at the end of the summer, with Malmö as his target. He stayed with the leading pack of 15-20 athletes which led for the first three laps. Just before halfway, Guerra nipped in front, only to be replaced by Spain’s Chema Martínez. With two and a half laps remaining, Driss El Himer, the Frenchman who was fourth in last year’s race, started to look as if he might challenge for gold. He and Guerra had four seconds on a fading Martínez with two laps remaining. Then, for the first time, Guerra fired on all cylinders. Within half a lap, he was 30m up on the Frenchman and actually managed to lap a back marker before the bell. The Portuguese was wearing one of those controversial vests, with front (green) and back (maroon) of different colours, but there was no confusing his class as he continued to increase his lead. Meanwhile El Himer succumbed to another former champion, Sergey Lebed. Consolation for the French Legionnaire was that he led his country to team gold. "I enjoy cross country, everybody knows that," concluded Guerra. "It’s certainly possible to win it again."

Portugal had already taken gold in both junior races. Braga’s Jessica Augusto won the junior women’s race after a thrilling sprint finish which saw the first four within a second of each other. Britain also had a good day. The identical twins Juliet and Jane Potter led their country to an unexpected gold in the junior women’s race, while the junior men’s race brought silvers for both the British team and Chris Thompson. The 19 year-old from Aldershot therefore becomes one of the most bemedalled men of these championships, having also won team gold and silver in the past two editions. Yet in Malmö he was no match for the tall, bespectacled Wolfram Müller, who followed up his brilliant track season with individual junior gold. He and Thompson were level at the start of the final hill, but Müller used his 3:39.09 1500m track speed to glide clear on this generally fast and firm course. The small home crowd were given something to cheer for in this race when Henrik Ahnström held a lead of 60m after two laps. He slipped back but ended with a creditable ninth place. An excellent innovation at these championships was the use of transponder chips to determine intermediate team placings. The chips, on the shoes of the runners, registered a signal as the feet struck a special mat placed at the end of every lap. Deep team standings were displayed almost instantly. Previously, a small army of spotters was required to compile comparable data. The information was updated with each lap, adding an exciting new dimension to the race for all those watching live or "off-tube".

Leading results (for fuller details please go to www.marathon.se/cross2000/)

Distance specifications
One lap = 1190m
Starting straight = 190m
Finishing straight = 65m
Linking distance pm

Senior Men (9705m including 8 laps)
1, Paulo Guerra POR 29:29
2, Sergey Lebed UKR 29:39
3, Driss El Himer FRA 29:45
4, Lyes Ramoul FRA 29:47
5, Mustapha El Ahmadi FRA 29:47
6, Carlos Adan ESP 29:48

Teams (4 to score)
1, France 23
2, Spain 51
3, Ireland 72

Junior Men (6135m including 5 laps)
1, Wolfram Müller GER 18:58
2, Chris Thompson GBR 19:00
3, Martin Pröll AUT 19:05
4, Rui Silva POR 19:10
5, Mickael Andre FRA 19:11
6, Bruno Silva POR 19:11

Teams (3 to score)
1, Portugal 21
2, Great Britain & NI 25
3, France 30

Senior Women (4945m including 4 laps)
1, Katalin Szentgyörgyi HUN 16:34
2, Analidia Torre POR 16:35
3, Olivera Jevtic YUG 16:37
4, Zahia Dahmani FRA 16:49
5, Kathy Butler GBR 16:51
6, Monica Rosa POR 16:55

Teams (3 to score)
1, Portugal 18
2, Great Britain & NI 33
3, Germany 54

Junior Women (3755m, including 3 laps)
1, Jessica Augusto POR 12:55
2, Nicola Spirig SUI 12:56
3, Elvan Can TUR 12:56
4, Tatyana Chulakh RUS 12:56
5, Juliet Potter GBR
6, Olga Kryvyak UKR 13:14

Teams (3 to score)
1, Great Britain & NI 21
2, Turkey 40
3, Sweden 49