14 July 2014
Gap, in the south of France, played host to the 2014 European Mountain Running Championships, and as ever the Great Britain & Northern Ireland team excelled, picking up two individual and three team medals.
From a British point of view, the performance of the day came in the first race of the day, the junior women’s race, which was run on a one lap, 4.25km course that contained 250 metres of climbing. The pace was hot from the start, but after a good climb Georgia Malir (coach: Andrew Henderson) and teammate Catriona Graves (John Bell) crested the top in the main lead group. But it was on the descent of this up and down course where Malir came into her own, as she chased down and finally overhauled long-time leader Bahar Atalay of Turkey in the closing stages to take victory.
Malir was understandably delighted with her run, judging her effort perfectly to take victory by just two seconds. With Graves running well to finish seventh and Zara Knappy (Henderson) and Lydia Sharpe (Jackie Newton/David Lowes) finishing together in 21 and 23 place respectively, GB & NI took team silver. Afterwards, Malir commented:
“My plan was to stick with the main group on the uphill part of the course and I felt quite good but I told myself to stick with the plan and hold back and I'm glad that I did. Bahar had a good lead at the top of the climb but, about half way down, she came into view. Every time we came to an open bit and she came into view, I knew I had closed a bit more. I knew I had to go for it on the grassy descent and I took her just after that.
“When I finished, I didn't know how to feel. I think my happiness was blocking out the pain from the race! I was really pleased and also relieved."
Next up were the junior men, and it was Scot Andrew Lawler (David Campbell) who led the British charge after a dominating victory at the trial race last month. He and Jacob Adkin (Gregor Nicholson) packed well to finish seventh and eighth, and with Ciaran Lewis less than a minute behind over the 8.15km course in sixteenth, the team put up a strong fight for a medal. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be their year, as they missed bronze by just five points. A points tally of just 31 would have won the team a medal in any of the other races, but with most of the team still in the age group next year, the future is bright.
The senior women tackled the same 8.15km, two lap course as the junior men, which contained 500m of ascent/descent. On paper this looked set to be a battle between GB & NI and Italy for both team and individual medals, and in the end just 11 points separated the two teams at the finish. Emma Clayton (Henderson) and Sarah Tunstall were both inside the top ten on the first lap, with Katie Walshaw (Katherine Farquhar) in thirteenth. As the race unfolded, Clayton was in a three way battle for fourth place, in the end settling for sixth. And with Tunstall finishing twelfth and Walshall holding her position, the team amassed 31 points, to secure another team silver.
In the senior men’s race, Robbie Simpson (Martin Cox) did what no British senior male has done for twelve years, and secured an individual European Championship medal. Simpson ran an impeccably judged race, moving through the field to take up a medal winning position on the second of three laps, which he held all the way to the finish.
It really was an inspired run, which makes Simpson’s decision to base himself in Europe and train specifically for the event all the more worthwhile. Afterwards he said:
"To win an individual silver at these championships is really amazing! Coming into the championships, I was confident and knew I was in good shape; I had planned my race strategy but, you never know - up and down races can be so unpredictable. My plan was to go out reasonably hard and be in the top ten by the end of the first climb. I wanted to be strong hitting the second lap. This is the key lap and I wanted to move through the field and then, on the last lap, push forward and use every last drop of energy. My tactics worked.
“I would like to say how much I've appreciated all the support that has allowed me to turn things around in these championships. I only just made the top 30 last year and it really knocked my confidence. To turn things around and get a medal is amazing.”
To add to Simpson’s fine run, both Andrew Douglas (Sophie Dunnett) and Tom Addison (Billy Proctor) similarly surpassed expectations to finish tenth and fifteenth respectively. Both men ran smart races, with Addison in particular gaining nine places in the final two laps, and their performances secured team silver medals to cap off a great championships for the GB & NI team.
The five medals achieved by the team meant they finished second in the medal table only behind the historically good Italians, but it is clear the gap to our European rivals is shrinking.