11th December 2022
GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND TOP MEDAL TABLE AT 2022 EUROPEAN CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPS
Great Britain and Northern Ireland topped the medal table at the 2022 European Cross Country Championships at the Piemonte-La Mandria Park in Turin with ten medals overall including individual gold medals for Charles Hicks [U23 Men] and Will Barnicoat [U20 Men].
With team titles for the U23 men and women, and the U20 men, it was a superb day for the GB & NI squad overall. There were silvers for Emile Cairess [Senior Men], who enjoyed the best placing by a British senior man at the Euro Cross since Mo Farah won silver in 2009, Megan Keith [U23 Women], Zakariya Mahamed [U23 Men] and the senior women’s team, while Alexandra Millard [U23 Women] marked her GB & NI debut with an individual bronze in the U23 women’s race.
Charles Hicks (coach: Ricardo Santos, club: Shaftesbury Barnet) and Zakariya Mahamed (Idris Hamud, Southampton) produced one of the most exciting battles of the day as the British duo sealed a one-two in the U23 men’s race, and also helped to guide the GB & NI team to gold.
Hicks, defending his title from Dublin 2021, was the favourite heading into this contest, and he did not disappoint as he featured prominently at the front of the field from the starting gun. The NCAA champion made a decisive move in the early stages, and only three other athletes moved away with him, including Mahamed and the Frenchman, Valentin Bresc who ended up with the bronze medal.
With a sizeable gap opening up to the chasing pack, which included Rory Leonard (Dave Smith, Morpeth) with Matt Stonier (Sonia McGeorge and Chris McGeorge, Invicta East Kent) just a little further back, Hicks and Mahamed put their foot on the accelerator with two large laps to go and all of a sudden, it was a question of which Briton would take the title? Using all his experience, Hicks got the better of Mahamed going up the final hill and that would seal him the gold, with Mahamed winning his first individual honour with silver.
Hicks commented post-race, “It is unbelievable. It was something I was thinking about coming into this race, the NCAAs – the idea of pulling out both in the same year; it’s unreal! Last year’s winning was already an accomplishment, it was my wildest dreams, and if I could do it again that would have been the perfect season for me. Now that I have finally done it, it’s unreal.”
He added, “Zak is a phenomenal athlete, we always knew that. We were talking before the race, and he said he was feeling a lot more fit this year than in previous years. I knew I could trust his fitness there, and he could hold a push like that. The first couple of laps – knowing I am more of a 10K runner, and this is an 8K race – it is very difficult. I just wanted to make sure I am not making it slow. I wanted to give myself the chance of running well, but also give Great Britain the best chance of running well because everyone in our team is so fit this year, so I felt that running hard was the best thing I could do for us.”
With the team standings very close to call with the French team, every position counted, and Stonier showed his quality as he came through strongly to finish his race in eighth place as the third counter. GB & NI finish three points ahead of France to secure team gold and a place on the podium.
Leonard was next back in 11th, while Joe Wigfield (Craig Winrow, Wirral AC) was 13th and Tomer Tarragano (Dean Miller, Brighton & Hove City AC) crossed the line in 37th.
It was a happy hunting ground for the GB & NI team in the U23 women’s race as Megan Keith (Ross Cairns, Inverness) and Alexandra Millard (Bill Foster, Invicta East Kent) reached the podium, and the team secured gold after a set of superb results.
As the sun shone down on the La Mandria Park, Keith, the U20 champion from 2021, stepped up to the U23 age group impressively as she pushed home favourite Nadia Battocletti (ITA) all the way to take the individual silver medal.
She ran shoulder-to-shoulder with the Italian for long spells of the race as she negotiated the muddy conditions and looked to be in contention for the title. However, on the final lap, Battocletti had the edge over the Briton and flew up the final hill and that move changed the complexion of the final lap. The Italian moved away to win the gold, while Keith dug in on the downhill section to confirm the silver.
Her teammate Millard also impressed throughout the race and was always in contention for the medals. As she glided around the final bend with a lead over those chasing her down, she powered away to win a memorable bronze medal to join Keith on the podium later in the day.
Keith said afterwards, “I feel stronger than last year, and I am happy with the way that I handled the 6km. Obviously, Nadia is phenomenal. I knew her move was going to come, and probably I wouldn’t be able to go with her in the end but I wanted to hang in there for as long as I could, and I am proud of the way that I raced today.”
With Grace Carson (Bill Foster, Mid Ulster) backing up the medal winners in fifth position, that gave the GB & NI team an unassailable lead at the top of the team standings ahead of Italy and France.
Eloise Walker (Trevor Painter, Edinburgh AC) was next across the line in 11th position, while debutants Alice Goodall (Mark Nixon, Edinburgh AC) and Yasmin Marghini (Wayne Vinton, Belgrave Harriers) fared well as they crossed the line in 13th and 18th respectively.
In the first race of the day, Will Barnicoat (Tim Eglen, Aldershot, Farnham and District) grabbed a dramatic victory in the U20 men’s race as he sprinted past Ireland’s Nicholas Griggs in the last few metres to get GB & NI off to the perfect start in Turin.
Barnicoat committed himself from the early stages, going with the leading group which contained Griggs, the reigning champion Axel Vang Christensen (DEN) and Joel Ibler Illeso (NOR). They had a considerable lead over the rest of the field with GB & NI’s Sam Mills (Exeter) and Luke Birdseye (Shireen Higgins, Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow) manoeuvring their way into the top 10 on the second lap to put the team in a very strong position early on.
As Christensen dropped out on the third climb up to the castle, Barnicoat stayed strong and alongside Griggs, forced the pace which saw Lilleso also fade away quickly, so it then became a showdown between the two. It looked like Griggs was going to seal the title as he opened up a small lead as they headed into the finishing straight after a strong descent, but Barnicoat did not give up, and pursued his opponent all the way. As Grigg stumbled and struggled to stay on his feet in the last 30 metres, the Briton pounced and took home the gold in dramatic fashion.
Hr said afterwards, “This was a very tough and also very special race for me. It was even more special because of all the support we had from the people around. I was very emotional coming to the finish line. I was thinking about my mum and dad and all their support after all those years. Without them, I would not be here. Normally, they do not go to all my competitions, but they are here today. I was also thinking about all my friends at home.
“I am also very happy for the British team to win the gold medal. They all ran brilliantly, so we are really pleased with the result.”
Mills chased Irishman Dean Casey valiantly over the last lap but could not find a way into the podium places, finishing just eight seconds outside bronze in fourth position. Birdseye came through well to take fifth position overall, and with the top three to count towards the team score, that was enough to seal team gold ahead of Ireland.
Edward Bird (Mark Pauley, Poole), a European U18 track medallist from the summer, worked his way into ninth position after showing a display of patience, while Johnny Livingstone (Taylor Gulley, Exeter) and Jacob Deacon (Katie Hewison, Chorley) were 22nd and 28th respectively.
Emile Cairess (Renato Canova, Leeds City) earned a phenomenal silver medal behind Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen (NOR) after a brilliant effort over the challenging course. Mo Farah was the last senior man to win silver in the race at the European Cross Country Championships, so it was the best performance by a Briton in the race in 13 years from the Yorkshireman.
The Leeds City athlete started conservatively but began to pick off a number of athletes to find himself in first place ahead of pre-race favourites Ingebrigtsen and Yemaneberhan Crippa (ITA) at the midway mark, and he found himself in the enviable position of dictating the pace of the leading group.
As the athletes began to fade off the pace of the lead pack over the final laps, Cairess stayed with the Norwegian and Isaac Kimeli (BEL) in the closing stages as the battle for medals was firmly on. With Ingebrigtsen turning on the afterburners midway through the final lap, attention turned to those following behind.
Crippa was closing the gap to Cairess and Kimeli on the final descent, but the Briton focused well down the technical section, and he managed it better than Kimeli as he came past the Belgian to win the silver medal and earn GB & NI’s fifth individual medal of the day.
The senior men’s team ended the race in sixth place overall with Mahamed Mahamed (Idris Hamud, Southampton) and Hugo Milner (Steve Lloyd, Derby) the other counters in 12th and 32nd respectively. Late call-up Ellis Cross (Mick Woods, Aldershot Farnham and District) was next home in 37th, with Ben Connor (self-coached, Derby) 42nd and Jack Rowe (Tim Eglen, Aldershot, Farnham and District) in 44th.
Meanwhile, the senior women secured the team silver behind a very strong German side, and it was team captain Jess Warner-Judd (Mick Judd, Blackburn) who was the top finisher with Abbie Donnelly (Rob Lewis, Lincoln Wellington) also earning a top 10 spot.
Warner-Judd was in the top four in the opening laps as she positioned herself well to be in contention alongside the likes of Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal (NOR) and Konstanze Klosterhalfen (GER). However, as the number of laps ticked by and more journeys up the steep bank came around, she lost touch with the leaders, but fought well to secure eighth place overall.
Donnelly was ninth after producing another fine display in a GB & NI vest, while Poppy Tank (Alistair Cragg and Amy Cragg, City of Plymouth) overhauled compatriot, Jess Gibbon (self-coached, Reading) in the final sprint for the line to take 13th to Gibbon’s 14th place.
Cari Hughes (Andy Walling, Cardiff) was next home in 22nd, while Amy-Eloise Markovc (Rob Denmark, Wakefield) was 28th overall. The team were clear silver medal winners ahead of Ireland.
Earlier in the programme, Innes Fitzgerald (Gavin Pavey, Exeter), on her debut for GB & NI, produced a fine display as she ended the race in fourth place overall, just been edged out of the medals on the final lap. The Devon athlete had set the pace for much of the contest, and was level with eventual winner, Maria Forero (ESP) as they entered the final lap.
However, the final steep climb took its toll on the 16-year-old who dropped away from Forero who seized her chance and accelerated away for gold. For Fitzgerald, she was caught by the fast-finishing Ingeborg Ostgard (NOR) and Illona Mononen (FIN) on the final descent and could not respond to their kick as they took silver and bronze, and the Briton would settle for fourth.
World Mountain Running silver medallist, Rebecca Flaherty (Karen Glerum, Bingley) ran a superb final lap to move up to 18th overall as the second British counter, while Megan Harris (Hayley Hemmings, Chelmsford) was next in 23rd. Alice Wright (Jon Bigg and Dan Stepney, Brighton Phoenix) and Alice Bates (Shane Smith, Kettering) were 31st and 60th respectively as the team finished fourth overall. Spain took the team gold.
Unfortunately, Beatrice Wood (Dave Amey, City of Salisbury) withdrew prior to the race getting underway as a precaution following Saturday’s course walk around.
It wasn’t to be a fourth title for the GB & NI team in the mixed relay as they crossed the line in fifth place overall in a race won by the home nation, Italy.
James Heneghan (James Thie, Pontypridd) faced a fast start as there was a clamour for positions before the first sharp uphill section. He handed over to Revee Walcott-Nolan (Dale Clutterbuck, Luton) in 11th place after the first leg. With work to do to close the gap on the leaders, Tokyo Olympian Walcott-Nolan chased down those ahead of her to hand to Callum Elson (Cambridge & Coleridge) in sixth after a measured performance on the leg. Elson, also on his international debut, earned one more position on his 1500m leg to hand to Khahisa Mhlanga (Herts Phoenix) in fifth. The youngest athlete in the quartet battled well on the last lap but with Italy, Spain and France opening up a significant lead at the front on the last lap, the Briton could not close the gap, so they settled for fifth place.
Highlights will be shown on BBC Two between 16:00-17:00 on Sunday, and it will be available on the BBC iPlayer soon after.
The Great Britain and Northern Ireland medals:
Gold (5): Charles Hicks [U23 Men]; Will Barnicoat [U20 Men]; U23 Men’s Team, U23 Women’s Team and U20 Men’s Team
Silver (4): Emile Cairess [Senior Men]; Megan Keith [U23 Women]; Zakariya Mahamed [U23 Men] and Senior Women
Bronze (1): Alexandra Millard [U23 Women]