Britton claims gold for Ireland

Ireland's Fionnuala Britton on her way to winning gold at the European Cross Country Championships in Slovenia. - (Photograph: Sasa Pahic Szabo/Inpho)

Ireland's Fionnuala Britton on her way to winning gold at the European Cross Country Championships in Slovenia. - (Photograph: Sasa Pahic Szabo/Inpho)

 

Athletics:Irish athlete Fionnuala Britton has claimed gold at the women's European Cross-Country Championships in Slovenia, bridging the 17-year gap since Catherina McKiernan claimed the senior title in 1994.

The Kilcoole AC member, who won the under-23 title in 2006, said afterwards victory in Velenje had become an obsession this year, after she finished fourth in 2010 having run the same time as bronze medallist, Anna Dulce Felix of Portugal.

“I can hardly believe it,” she told RTE. “That was the plan (to make the running) from the start and I knew I had to it. After last year, this is the only medal I wanted. In a way, it's been on my mind for the whole year.”

Portugal’s Dulce Felix was second with Britain’s Gemma Steel taking bronze, but Britton was never really threatened after quick start.

The Irishwoman had Nadia Ejjafini for company for the first half of the race but the Italian was unable to cope with the pace and was eventually reeled in by Steel.

The British athlete did her utmost to close the gap on Britton but the Irishwoman led by around 30 metres and never looked like surrendering that advantage.

As Britton relentlessly pressed on, Steel suffered from her efforts and allowed Felix into the silver medal position.

There was also reason to celebrate for Dundrum South Dublin AC athlete Joe Sweeney, who was fifth in the men’s race.

Sweeney was unable to maintain the early pace he set in pursuit of eventual winner Atelaw Bekele of Belgium, but hung on to claim a very creditable fifth.