30th March 2024


Great Britain and Northern Ireland rewrote the history books with their first medal in the senior mixed relay at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships, winning bronze in the hot conditions in Belgrade, Serbia on Saturday (30).

On a busy day for the British team, Innes FitzGerald and Jess Bailey earned top 20 positions in the U20 women’s race, team captain Abbie Donnelly sealed an impressive top 20 placing in the senior women’s race, while Quinn Miell-Ingram and Will Barnicoat were the top GB & NI finishers in the U20 and senior men’s races respectively.

The senior mixed relay team produced their best ever display at the Championships as they reached the podium for the first time in the event’s history. It was also GB & NI’s first medal at the Championships since the 2013 edition when the junior women’s team secured bronze in Bydgoszcz.

The bronze medal winning quartet came through the field in thrilling fashion as they moved from ninth on leg one to third at the end of the contest after an entertaining contest.

Thomas Keen (Mark Vile, Cambridge and Coleridge) – competing as a senior on a GB & NI team for the first time – started the team off strongly on a fast and furious first lap and ultimately handed over to Alex Millard (Bill Foster, Invicta East Kent) in ninth place and 24 seconds off the podium positions at this stage.

However, much can change in the relay, and Millard fought well to reel in those ahead of her as she overtook the French team and sat closely behind Uganda in eighth as she handed over to Adam Fogg (Cory Leslie, Coventry).

Fogg’s leg shook up the whole complexion of the race as he brought the British team into contention of a medal as he overhauled Uganda, Japan and Morocco to take the team up to fourth with the American quartet a mere three seconds ahead at the final changeover.

After Fogg’s imperious display, all eyes were on Bethan Morley (Bill Foster, Leeds), who has been in exceptional form during the cross country season. Such is her standing over the short course distances, she moved past the USA’s Katie Izzo very early on, and ran a very composed leg to continue to open the gap from the rest of the field. In the long run for home, she sprinted away and had her arms aloft as she reached the finish line as the team secured world bronze.

Afterwards, Keen said, “It just went off so quickly, it really feels like a sprint all the way around. I think my leg was good enough to put the rest of the guys in a good position and allow their talents to bring it home for us.

Millard added, “There were certain sections of the course which made it very challenging, and the heat was also a factor. I ran in Australia in hotter conditions last year, so I was prepared to face it. It was really fun, and I am so pleased we have won the bronze medal.”

After his superb leg, Fogg commented, “Coming off Euro Cross, me and Beth ran there and we thought it was an outside shot of getting a medal there and then we won bronze, so today we thought it might be possible to win a medal, but we knew we were going to have to have a really good day and thankfully we pulled it together and got it done to win the bronze medal. I think that is more than we could have asked for.”

Morley reflected, “The American girl was in my sights early on, but I had to remain calm, and not go off too quickly. Coming down the final ramp into the home straight I was just thinking ‘oh my god, I am going to be a world medallist’, you’ve got to keep it going! We thought on a very good day we could get a medal, and look, we had a very good day.”

Rounding off a superb cross country season, team captain Abbie Donnelly (Rob Lewis, Lincoln Wellington) was the first Briton home in the senior women’s race in 20th place.

Leading by example, the European medallist fought strongly across the gruelling course in sweltering conditions, working her way through the field to come home as the third European overall. In a race dominated by the Kenyans who locked out the top five positions, Donnelly battled hard to improve upon her 24th place finish in Bathurst last year.

Lauren McNeil (Hallamshire) and Alice Goodall (Mark Pollard, Edinburgh AC) worked well together as they crossed the line in 45th and 46th position as the second and third GB & NI counters.

Lauren Heyes (Hallamshire Harriers), a late replacement for Jess Warner-Judd, and Niamh Brown (Tim Eglen, Aldershot Farnham and District) sadly withdrew just over midway through the race, so did not finish.

European U23 champion Will Barnicoat (Tim Eglen, Aldershot Farnham and District) produced a solid performance as he worked through the field to bag 27th overall.

After a conservative start to the senior men’s race, the field was drawn out over lap two and three and gave the British athletes the chance to pick off those ahead of them. Barnicoat showed his class in the senior field as the first Briton home and inside the world top 30.

He was followed by Inter Counties champion Callum Johnson (Gateshead) in 44th, while Tom Evans (Scott Johnson, Lewes) executed his race plan well to end the race in 49th, just sneaking inside the top 50 after a sprint finish.

James Kingston (Mark Hookway, Tonbridge) and Scott Stirling (John Pentecost, Falkirk) completed their senior debuts in 68th and 74th respectively.

In the first race of the programme, the GB & NI quartet finished in fifth place overall in the U20 women’s race with Innes FitzGerald (Gavin Pavey, Exeter) and Jess Bailey (Matthew Long, Leven Valley) earning top 20 placings in 17th and 18th respectively.

After a superb run of form on the cross country terrain this winter, it was unsurprising that Innes FitzGerald – the reigning European champion – was the leading Briton in the early stages as she attached herself to the big group of Kenyan, Ethiopian and Ugandan athletes on the opening lap as she tried to establish her position in the race. Eliza Nicholson (Mike Reeves, Blackheath and Bromley) was also close to the leading group at this stage, but an acceleration of pace on lap two significantly spread out the field.

As FitzGerald and Nicholson dropped off the rapid leading pace, they had to dig in around the fast and flat course as temperatures soared in Serbia. However, the British quartet packed very well on the final lap to secure fifth in the team standings behind Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and USA to finish the event as the top European nation.

FitzGerald battled home as the first Briton – and European – in 17th position, with a fast-finishing Jess Bailey (Matthew Long, Leven Valley) almost pipping her on the line after a superbly timed race. Nicholson, on her GB & NI debut, was 25th, while Natasha Phillips (Dundee Hawkhill) ran strongly to cross the line in 30th to round out the GB & NI contingent.

FitzGerald said, “I wanted to come out as top European if I could. Off the back of winning the Europeans, I thought it was within me, and I managed to do it. Coming out of it in 17th is impressive, and there is plenty to improve on next time. The conditions were so brutal. My chest got very dry because of the heat, but I am pleased with my run.

“There are so many more things I can do in training, so I hope to be more on their level in the future. For now, it is about seeing what it is like to run against this field and have some fun.”

The U20 men found the going tough in a high-quality race with Quinn Miell-Ingram (Wendy Miell-Ingram, Radley) the top GB & NI finisher in 31st on his international debut for his country.

It was James Dargan (Mick Woods, Aldershot Farnham and District) who was the leading Briton after the first lap, however, Miell-Ingram came past him on lap two to establish his placing as the leading member of the quartet, but little separated them as they worked as part of a chasing group just outside the top 30.

Miell-Ingram was just pushed into 31st on the line with the American Kole Mathison coming through strongly. Craig Shennan (Dudley Walker, Giffnock North) was next home after timing his race to perfection in 35th, while Dargan ended his campaign in 47th. Henry Dover (Shaftesbury Barnet) was the final British athlete across the line in 62nd overall as the team finished tenth.


Great Britain and Northern Ireland medal tally

Bronze (1): Senior Mixed Relay [Thomas Keen, Alex Millard, Adam Fogg, Bethan Morley]