Women of Bronze to the Rescue in Samokov
It wasn’t the medal everyone expected for the Irish in Samokov this morning – with Fionnuala Britton’s individual aspirations of a medal put on ice over the final lap as she faded to sixth – but it was, crucially, a medal nonetheless as the Irish took a surprise team bronze in the senior women’s event.
Individually, it was a head-to-head duel for the crown between Brits Gemma Steel and Kate Avery, with Steel showing impressive, well, steel to emerge victorious on the run to the finish. Some 30 seconds behind, the duel for bronze was still being fought out there on the course, which could best be described as a muddy, icy, undulating slush-puppie.
Fionnuala Britton, twice a champion in this realm, stuck all her chips in the middle entering that last lap. Afterwards, she spoke of her desire not to come fourth again, a position she also filled twice in this event, and when she occupied that position entering the closing mile, she threw all her remaining reserves into trying to grind her way into the medals. It was a move that was classic Britton bravery, but it was ultimately ill-fated as she faded to sixth, one second behind last year’s champion, Sophie Duarte.
“It felt like a bit of a disaster for me,” said Britton. “I felt like I never got going. It’s very much mixed emotions right now.”
However, her immediate disappointment was to give way to considerable pride as her teammates began to filter across the line. First, there was Sara Treacy, running way above expectations by finishing 12th. Next in was Michelle Finn in 23rd, with Ann Marie McGlynn rounding out the team scorers in 46th. Siobhan O’Doherty, in 47th, and Laura Crowe, in 53rd, were the fifth and sixth team members. The Irish team, with 87 points, had just one to spare over France in fourth.
“I went from being really disappointed, to excited, to being terrified that I was going to lose it for everybody, because I got caught by two people near the end,” said Britton afterwards. “It’s a team sport and a team medal is a big thing, though. It’s not Budapest [2011, where Britton won individual and team gold], but it’ll be hard to ever replicate that.”
Britton revealed afterwards that any marathon plans have been shelved for the time being, at least until the latter part of 2015. “At the moment, I haven’t thought past this, but I don’t think I’ll do a marathon early in the year, probably at the end,” she said. “I might do World Cross [in Guiyang, China, in March].
In the senior men’s race, there was, unsurprisingly, no medals to take home for the Irish team, who finished a creditable sixth with 127 points. Up front, the race was an East African carve-up, with adopted Turks Polat Arikan edging victory from Ali Kaya. Former drug cheat and adopted Spaniard Alemayehu Bezabeh finished a close third.
For the Irish, Paul Pollock was leading scorer in 23rd, a sign that the Ulster man is slowly coming back to his very best form after overcoming injury. Behind him, Dublin’s Brendan O’Neill ran well to finish 29th and just a second behind him, our own adopted Irishman Kevin Batt was next home in 31st. Mick Clohisey rounded out the team scoring for the Irish team by finishing 44th.
In the under-23 men’s race, it was a Russian monopoly of the medals as Ilgizar Safiulin took gold. Kevin Dooney was first home for the Irish in 18th, Liam Brady next best in 26th, with the team scores rounded out by Brandon Hargreaves in 40th and Conor Duffy in 59th. The team finished ninth of ten.
Unlike last year, Ireland sent a team for this year’s under-23 women’s race, but it proved a decision which may be re-considered next year as they finished ninth and last of the competing teams. Leading them home was Orna Murray in 40th, followed by Shona Heaslip in 42nd, with Maria O’Sullivan (49th) and Mary Mulhare (55th) rounding out the team scores.
In the junior events, where medals are perhaps hardest to come by, the Irish teams were again well down the finishing order, the women’s finishing 10th and last, the men’s finishing 12th of 17.
In the junior men’s, the Italians were all-conquering, their men’s team winning with a remarkable tally of just 18 points, spearheaded by individual champion Yemanaberhan Crippa, a man with a name and hairstyle so absurdly cool that he could only, inevitably, be set for stardom. Best of the Irish was Ennis’s Kevin Mulcaire, who finished a creditable 33rd, just ahead of David Harper in 34th. Jack O’Leary was next home in 61st, with triathlete specialist Con Doherty rounding out the team scorers in 73rd.
In the junior women’s race, Hope Saunders was best of the Irish, running well to finish 35th, with Rhona Pierce (43rd), Isabel Carron (52nd) and Orlaith Moynihan (62nd) the other team scorers.
It wasn’t everything we hoped it would be, this European Cross Country, but still, it was a medal. A bronze medal, a team medal, a medal for Ireland, a medal for athletics.
Hats off, ladies.