The British Athletics team placed second in the overall standings at the Great Edinburgh XCountry with notable performances coming from Emelia Gorecka (coach: Chris Thompson) who was second in the senior women’s race, and the 4x1km relay team, led home by Laura Muir (Andy Young), who retained the Stewart International Relay Cup.
Cheered on by a vocal home crowd, Laura Muir anchored the British team to victory in the 4x1km relay, repeating the win from last year’s event.
Muir, who began her 2018 season with a 8:37.21 clocking indoors over 3000m last weekend, continued her preparations for the year ahead in fine style, taking over from Adam Clarke (Geoff Watkin) to open up a commanding and decisive lead and anchor the team to victory.
The team had initially been put in a competitive position by Tom Marshall (James Thie) – who was part of the European cross country gold medal winning team in December – handing over to British team debutant Alex Bell (Andrew Henderson) in seventh place but within a packed bunch. The Pudsey and Bramley athlete produced a superb leg to move the team up into second behind Team Europe.
Clarke continued the battle with Europe and Ireland, just getting overhauled by the latter at the changeover. However, Muir’s turn of pace was electric and she opened up a big lead early on in the leg. She never looked back, clocking a leg of 3:01, to reclaim the relay title once again.
Muir spoke afterwards: “It was great fun; I always love competing here. It is fantastic to get another win in the relay; the team did a great job of getting me into a good position so I just had to bring it home for them which I’m happy I was able to do.”
“I knew when Adam came around the bend I was going to have to work hard to push on but I’m really pleased to get the win. It is another stepping stone as we build it up this year so I’m glad to run a good leg for the team.”
Previous winner of this event, Emelia Gorecka (Chris Thompson), enjoyed another stellar performance over the Holyrood mud, claiming second in the senior women’s race. Yasemin Can moved ahead early on for Team Europe, but the Aldershot Farnham & District athlete was patient and continued her efforts to reel her opponent in. With the constant presence of America’s Molly Seidel on her shoulder, the Briton was pressured for the entire race but ultimately ended up just two seconds behind the Turkish athlete.
Gorecka spoke after her fine second place:
“For me, a top five would have been an amazing performance. Prior to the race, top three would have been good. But once I got into second position, I was telling myself ‘don’t lose it’. That kept me going. But at the same time, people were saying ‘you should be going for first.’ I was using that to get me going. I was getting closer on the last lap but it’s the kind of course with all the twists and turns, that it’s going to be tough.”
Looking back on her successful winter season so far, which comes after a long spell with injuries, Gorecka added:
“If someone had told me I’d come through all of this, I’d have thought they were having a laugh. All I wanted to do was get back in the mix and feel like an athlete again. To be in the mix here, I feel like I’ve gone beyond that now. To be back and get that buzz back, that’s’ what I’ve missed so much.”
Phoebe Law (Mick Woods) followed in sixth place with debutant Verity Ockenden (Tony Houchin) and Jess Judd (Mick Judd) the next two counters. In her first taste of international senior cross country running, Harriet Knowles-Jones (Paul Roden) fared well in tenth position overall. After winning the European U20 title in Samorin last month, the Warrington athlete made an encouraging foray into senior racing.
Similarly to last month’s European cross, Ben Connor (Steve Vernon) put himself into prime position early on in the senior men’s race. The Stockport Harrier was not shy to get involved with the leaders in the opening exchanges; such is his confidence since winning the trials for the Europeans last November. His more aggressive approach to these races is clearly showing the benefit as he held on for fifth position.
Building upon an encouraging display in Antrim last weekend, Andy Vernon showed further improvement in Edinburgh, placing ninth overall.
In the junior women’s contest, Cari Hughes (Andrew Walling) was the first Briton across the line after a fine run from the youngster. She finished a marvellous ninth at the European cross in December and continued to show that sort of form in the Scottish capital. As American Kelsey Chmiel opened up a significant lead on the final lap that strung out the rest of the field, the British athlete did not panic in this situation, holding on for fourth position.
The fast finishing Khahisa Mhlanga (Mick Judd) pipped Niamh Brown (Mick Woods) to the line as they finished fifth and sixth respectively as the junior women won the team race overall.
First home for the British team in the junior men’s team was Matthew Willis (self-coached) who ran a superb race to place third overall. The Welshman only earned his first international vest at the European cross country championships in December and he was the first British athlete in that race as well, so it has been a very successful winter season so far for the Wrexham athlete.
Willis began conservatively but worked his way into the leading group at the end of the first of four long laps. A group of seven, including Tom Mortimer (Christopher Brown) and Jake Heyward (James Thie) was prominent in the early stages but it was Willis alongside Haugen (eventual race winner), Oumaiz, Kilrea and Gracia who pushed on from that stage.
As the bell tolled with one lap to go, excitement took hold as Willis pushed to the front of the field, stretching out the quintet which proved to be essential. Willis hung on in the closing stages for third place, one of his best cross country achievements to date.
Willis commented: “I’m really proud with how I did. I started off on the back of the main pack but as people started to drop off, I made sure I was still hanging onto the group of Europeans and Americans. Each of the laps it kept whittling down. When the bell went for the last lap it gave me a bit more to surge on. The two Europeans went back passed me at that point so I just had to hang on.
“I haven’t been expecting to finish as top Brit both times (here and the European Cross) so it has been a real surprise. I would never have expected this after the trials in November. For the Europeans I just wanted to finish in the top half but to be the top Briton gave me a lot of confidence for this one.”
Full results can be found here.