Double gold for Britton and Ireland
Athletics:Fionnuala Britton created history in Budapest on Sunday as she became the first woman to retain the European Cross Country title with a stunning run which also helped Ireland win the team event.
The Wicklow runner was amongst the top three for the whole of the race, burning off the challenge of Portugal’s Ana Dulce Felix and the Ethiopian-born Belgium runner Almensh Belete to win in a time of 27:45 from Dulce Felix, with Dutch woman Adrienne Herzog in third.
Britton’s performance on the snow covered course sparked a brilliant team effort as Linda Byrne came home in eighth position. Ava Hutchinson finished in 18th spot and when Cork runner Lizzie Lee crossed the line in 21st position Ireland had claimed a double gold.
With the top four runners to count, Ireland tied with France on 52 points, but won on countback as Lee finished ahead of France’s slowest runner, Magali Bernard.
Sarah McCormack (36th) and Sara Treacy (42nd) completed the victorious team that claimed the top spot on the podium on a momentous day for Irish cross country running. Great Britain finished in third position in the team event.
Britton was class personified over the eight kilometre race, dispensing with her woolly hat just after the midpoint of the race on a cold but clear day in Budapest.
The tall Dulce Felix kept company with Britton throughout the race, but the big danger came from Belete, who stayed on the Irishwoman’s shoulder until the final lap.
Britton blitzed her rivals entering the barn feature on the run to home and her gold was never in doubt as she held off Dulce Felix in the final straight.
After collecting her two goal medals, Britton admitted that crossing the line to see that Ireland had also won the team event was a special moment in her career.
“It was more or less the perfect day, when I crossed the line I could hardly believe it and then when I looked up at the scoreboard and saw that we had one the team it was the best feeling ever. To stand on the podium and sing the national anthem twice in the space of 10 minutes is an unbelievable feeling,” admitted Britton.
She admitted that the fast start to the race was a surprise, but that she kept an eye that none of her fellow medal contenders were in the breakaway.
“It was a kind of funny start because a couple of people went off very hard, but none of the people that we really would have been watching went out that hard,” added Britton.
“I kind of felt at that point maybe people were saying we don’t know them so it’s okay to let them go because they are going to come back again, where maybe if some of the medallists from last year had gone out hard everyone would have gone with them.”
Britton’s plan to get far enough ahead of her main rivals didn’t come to pass and she admitted that she was concerned of the fast finish of Dulce Felix, who was aiming to reverse the places on Britton from last year’s championship in Slovenia.
“I did have a race plan and I did stick to it, but they didn’t stick to my race plan and they hung on for a lot longer [than I expected]. I knew there was going to be people there, but I didn’t know if I would be able to hold off people coming down that hill to the finish because I know that there were faster finishers than me. So I knew that I needed to get over that last hill in first place and then hang on as long as possible.
“Coming down the last few hundred metres, all the Irish support was unbelievable, but I could hear the panic in their voices. I heard one person in particular shout that the Portuguese girl is coming for you and I knew how much she wanted it, so I just had to kick harder.”
Italy’s Andrea Lali claimed the men’s 10 kilometres race in a time of 30:01 from France’s Hassan Chahdi, with another Italian, Daniele Meucchi taking bronze.
It wasn’t enough for Italy to take the team event, which went to Spain, while Ireland finished in seventh position. Brendan O’Neill was the best of the Irish finishers in 22nd position.