Britton delivers gold yet again
ATHLETICS:How on the wicked frozen earth of Budapest did she win that? No weakness, no fear, no panic and no letting up, although it took all that and more for Fionnuala Britton to become the first woman to successfully defend a European Cross-Country crown.
Everyone said it was going to be harder to retain this title than winning it in the first place, and so it proved. Yet no one said the Irish women would win team gold medals too – a deliciously exciting bonus prize to Britton’s searing tour de force in the bitter cold Hungarian air.
Typical of Irish athletics, too, to produce one its most heart-warming days in a year that had repeatedly failed to ignite. Perhaps tradition does count for something after all, because the nature of Britton’s run, and the similar determination of the Irish women that followed her home, felt like a sudden and unexpected throwback to the good old days.
Lord knows who convinced or indeed paid for the large contingent of Irish supporters. Their impromptu celebrations caught local organisers by surprise: barriers were pushed over and no one seemed to care. It was the moment for which these championships will always be remembered.
If Britton had to fight with heart and mind every step of the way, then so too did the Irish team. She took the lead after just 2km of a tough 8km race. Only after repeated surging, pressing and hurting did Britton break the resistance of those behind her, winning in the end by just two seconds from fast-finishing Ana Dulce Felix from Portugal, last year’s runner-up.
“At that stage I didn’t really know who it was behind me,” said Britton. “I just heard a lot of Irish people shouting at me . . . It was just about holding on, getting to that line first.”
The Irish women put themselves in contention for the team prize early on and stayed there – with Linda Byrne (8th), Ava Hutchinson (20th) and Lizzie Lee (23rd) packing superbly well, backed up by Sarah McCormack and Sara Treacy.
And yet the French looked to be in command, even as the runners crossed the line.
Then the scores flashed up – 52 points each, with four to score, but with Ireland on top, thanks to the count back rule. That meant women’s team gold for Ireland, for the first time.
“To win the team gold medal . . . makes it better that last year,” said Britton.
“But for me, it wasn’t about defending it. I’d heard before the race, that no woman had done it. But . . . it was just about winning it on the day.”
And what a sweet day it turned out to be.