Team gold caps an epic day as Britton defends her title in emphatic fashion
EUROPEAN CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIP:After 4km it was hats off. After 6km it was gloves off too, at least for some of them. After that it was every woman left fighting for herself, the only thing to decide it in the end being who really was tougher than the rest.
By then, our throats were hoarse and hands numbed beyond belief, but if Fionnuala Britton was to win this race from the front, in sub-zero temperatures, do it the damn hard way, do what no woman had ever done before, it was going to come down to every last breath, not just her own.
“Sure I could hear the panic in your voices,” Britton told us afterwards, conscious, obviously, of the roars of encouragement coming from every corner of the icy course out around Szentendre.
“And that did get me worried. Everyone was shouting, ‘she’s coming! She’s coming!’ And all I could think was, ‘well I can’t do anything else about it . . .’ I didn’t even know who was coming.
“I could hear my coach Chris Jones shouting at me too, on every lap, telling me ‘gotta go, gotta go’. I heard a lot of people shouting. And it did all help, in different ways. I could never really see what was going on behind. But coming to the finish there was really nothing left, I was just going as fast as I could. There’s nothing you can do. I just needed to get over the top of the last hill, first. But I never felt safe, and part of me was thinking they were just lining up to fly by me on the last downhill.”
Two years ago, in Albufeira, they did fly by her, including Portugal’s Ana Dulce Felix, and Britton ended up fourth: this time, a faster, stronger, more robust athlete was in no mood for such a late surrender, the speed at which she finished truly astonishing for a runner not renowned for her so-called kick.
“Well, I think for anyone watching those last 100 metres it was more exciting than last year. And even for me it was, too. I suppose it was a tougher course here too, and there were more of us involved this time. For a good while last year, I was away, always felt safe for a medal, but I never felt safe here.
“I didn’t want to leave it that late, but everyone was still there. I didn’t really want to put myself out there so early on either. But winning last year definitely gave the confidence I needed, here, but so too did the track season, and the improvements I made there. But there’s never any margin for error when you’re trying to win.”