2nd April 2019


Rory Leonard (club: Morpeth) feels he has redeemed himself from his European Cross Country Championship performance in December by helping the British team to eighth place at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, on Saturday.

Despite claiming a team silver medal in Tilburg, the Netherlands, Leonard came home in 71st position after his shoe came off in the early stages, describing the race afterwards as one of the worst in his career.

At the weekend, he made amends with a scoring performance that saw him cross the line in 37th place, finishing as the fourth European athlete and second Brit in a time of 26:33.

Leonard feels he has been able to put to bed the demons of Euro Cross by  giving the best account of himself possible and help the team with a good run.

Reflecting on his performance, Leonard said: “It’s pretty unbelievable, it seems crazy to go out there in such a big competition and run really well, especially with everything that was happening both there on the day and leading up to it.

“The atmosphere, the course, the hype around it, it was one of the best World Cross Country Championships that there have ever been from what I can work out and what I’ve heard.

“To be a part of it is ridiculous and to come away from all of that as the 37th best runner in the world really, it is something special to say that.

“It was a really different day on Saturday compared to Europeans. Everything that could have gone wrong did [in Tilburg], and to come back and prove that the run at Europeans wasn’t a true reflection of where I was at and that I can pull it together in a big race, was great.

“I felt that I needed that consolidation with a good run on Saturday and I’ve been unlucky in a few races over the winter, so it was nice to go out there, get redemption from Tilburg and finish my season with everything going right.”

The course in Aarhus, which saw athletes running on the roof of the Moesgaard Museum, had been touted as one of the toughest courses in recent year on the circuit and it lived up to the billing.

Leonard feels that the course was a return to the very foundations of cross country and made for an entertaining battle between all athletes.  He also felt that the performance of the British team on such a challenging course is one that cannot go unnoticed.

“It was one of the best cross country courses that I’ve seen in a big international event. It had the hills, it had the mud and it showed everyone what real cross country is all about which I think is really important to do for the sport.

“More than anything else, it shows to people that the atmosphere at a cross country can be amazing. How much work people put in to make an event like that a success was evident and it was such a wild event to be a part of.

“I was out there with six amazing runners from Great Britain & Northern Ireland, and the fact that the race came together for most of us was really pleasing and being the top European team and a top 10 team in the world is awesome.

“For Zakariya, Euan, Josh and Ben, it was their first international cross country in a British vest and they showed racing maturity from the start, no one went off too hard and we raced really well and were solid as a team.”

Leonard’s cross country season has been a mixed one by his own admission but feels that since the turn of the year, his form peaked and he has enjoyed one of the best seasons on the grass in his career.

Having put such a strong winter behind him, he is ready to challenge himself further in the summer track season and is targeting the European Under-20 Championships in Borås, Sweden.

“My season has had some ups and downs it’s fair to say. It started great, I opened at Cardiff with a second-place and then came home second to Jake Heyward in Burgos, which was a great experience.

“After being ill at the trials but gaining selection for the Europeans, I had the worst race of my life, my shoe came off and it was a real dip. Going into 2019 I knew I had to get every race right and I’ve turned things around.

“I won the Northern Counties and the English Nationals, came second at Inter Counties and capped it with a 37th place at the worlds. I think on the whole, this has been my best season so far on the grass.

“Having that behind me sets me up so well,” he continued. “Right now, a medal in the 5000m at the European Under-20 Championships is the main target.

“I think the competition will be stacked for the 5000m given how everyone has run over the cross this winter which is going to make it so interesting as to who makes the team and I can’t wait for the season to start.”