Team gold caps an epic day as Britton defends her title in emphatic fashion
Ireland has enjoyed happy days like this, going back to Catherina McKiernan’s win in the inaugural European Cross Country, in 1994, yet the prize that followed – a first ever women’s team gold – took it to a whole new level.
“It’s something we talked about since September,” added Britton, “and half of us were there in Dublin, in 2009, when it just didn’t work out for us. Although I don’t think we really believed we could win the team gold as well.”
Truth is even team manager Teresa McDaid never predicted gold, yet deserves credit for the keeping the team focused after the resignation of Ann Keenan-Buckley two months ago; still, all six Irish women gave credit to Keenan-Buckley too, for first planting the seed for this victory.
With a bitter wind, it was in every sense a day for the pure cross specialist: in finishing eighth Linda Byrne ran her best since finishing fourth as a junior, back in 2005, and for Ava Hutchinson, her team-mate in the London Olympic marathon this summer, finishing in 20th place was her best finish ever.
Lee is only a recent convert, having previously focused on road and triathlon, but as it turned out her 23rd place, having nailed the Spanish runner Lidia Rodriquez right on the line, was ultimately the difference between silver and gold.
“To be honest, we were thinking third, maybe second,” said Byrne, her top-10 finish well ahead of even her own expectations. “So to win gold is incredible. Everyone stepped up, worked off each other. And I think maybe the conditions suited us, not much worse than we’d normally run it . . . But it’s one my best runs ever, yes, to win a team medal . . .”
For Britton to become the first woman to successfully defend a European Cross Country title in the 18 years it’s been staged, the way she did it, will be hard to top. Three-in-a-row? “Well, if next year comes around as fast as this one did, we’ll see,” she said.
Breandan O’Neill ran strongly to take 22nd in the senior men’s race, won very impressively by the Italian Andrea Lalli, although Joe Sweeney couldn’t come close to his fifth place finish of last year, finishing in 27th.
“To see the women team win gold, after what we did in 2010 (at under-23), I think the country is stepping up,” said O’Neill. “Hopefully the senior men can step up next year, too.”
Roll on 2013, indeed.