Friday 15 December 2017

Britton keeps Irish at top of Euro pack

Fionnuala Britton
Fionnuala Britton
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

FIONNUALA Britton's dream of breaking into the top 10 at the World Cross-Country Championships fizzled out on the testing frozen course in Poland, where she could only manage 14th place, equal to her best previous position six years ago.

The Kilcoole AC star was still the first European woman across the line and she led the Irish team to uphold their status as European champions by finishing fifth in the team competition, their best team placing in over 12 years.

Ireland's reigning two-in-a-row European champion showed the Africans no deference when she led at one point during the opening lap of the 8,000m race and was still in the middle of a 10-woman breakaway before the half-way mark.

But when she found the going tough on the course's difficult hill the second time round it was clear she was struggling to keep up with the pace being ramped up by Ethiopia's Hiwot Alayew, who was fifth in the 2012 Olympic steeplechase.

Alayew looked odds-on for victory after breaking away to a 30-metre lead on the third lap but Kenya's Emily Chebet, who won the title in 2010, came with a brilliant late surge to pass her in the final 100m, taking gold in 24:24, three seconds clear, with Ethiopia's Belaynesh Oljira (fifth in the Olympic 10,000m) holding off Bahrain's Shitaye Eshete to take bronze.

Britton (right) came home 44 seconds later, with America's Neely Spence just ahead of her and excellent 'packing' from Mary Cullen (27th in 25:42), Linda Byrne (32nd in 25:49) and Ava Hutchinson (42nd in 25:58) secured fifth overall in the team standings, with Lizzie Lee another minute adrift in 70th.

That certainly vindicated Britton's insistence that a team should compete and confirmed Ireland's status as European champions, as they came home just 15 points behind the Americans and seven clear of France, who they beat on count-back in Budapest last December. Britton's immediate reaction was one of disappointment.

"I put myself in a good position at the start and I couldn't hang on to it. I don't feel like I gave up in it, I just didn't have it. I was stuck in the same pace and couldn't get going again," she said, refusing to blame the technically difficult course which had dangerously slippy and tight corners in the sub-zero degrees.

America caused a huge sensation in the men's senior race, in which Kenyan teenager Japhet Korir beat defending champion Imane Merga, breaking up the East African hegemony by taking the team silver (by a two-point margin) ahead of the Kenyans, thanks to getting four men in the top 19, led by Ben True (sixth) and Chris Derrick (10th).

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