Every single member of Britain’s six teams in the Spar European Cross Country Championships at Chia won medals on Sunday (11 December). The 36-strong squad claimed 10 medals, including gold for the senior men’s, U23 women’s and U20 women’s teams, yet the medals table was topped by Turkey after 13 consecutive years of dominance by Britain.
Chia is a small coastal resort on the Italian island of Sardinia surrounded by hills and overlooked by an ancient fort. However, the course for this major event was pancake flat with just a row of straw bales and a couple of man-made mounds to break the rhythm of the athletes on the 1500m-per-lap circuit.
It was a case of Scotland the brave in the senior men’s race as Rio Olympians Andrew Butchart and Callum Hawkins were soon forcing the pace at the front with Turkey’s Aras Kaya and Polat Arikan, who were amongst a raft of former Kenyan athletes who had recently transferred their allegiance under IAAF rules.
The marathon strength of Hawkins overcame the innate speed of Butchart and it was the Kilbarchan athlete who raced in for individual bronze with Euro Trials winner Butchart (4th), Andy Vernon (5th), US-based Ben Connor (16th), Dewi Griffiths (18th) and Ross Millington (32nd). These six comprised the gold medal team. After enjoying a fantastic year Hawkins said: “2016 has been the best year of my life. At this point last year, when I was trying to get the Olympic qualifying time, I could never have imagined all this would have happened. Ninth in the Olympics, sub-61 (half marathon) and a medal here – the last few months have just been incredible.”
The senior women won this title on the previous three occasions but had to settle for silver behind Turkey this time around. Steph Twell repeated her sixth from last year to lead the team home, supported by Euro Trials winner and 2014 European champion Gemma Steel (12th), Katrina Wootton (16th), Pippa Woolven (17th), Charlotte Arter (43rd) and Emily Hosker-Thornhill (57th).
Earlier in the day there had been brilliant gold medal team performances by the under-23 women - led by individual bronze medallist Alice Wright – and the under-20 women, with bronze for last year’s runner-up, Harriet Knowles-Jones.
The men’s U23 team claimed bronze and the U20’s race saw Mahamed Mahamed grab individual bronze after the early leader Alex Yee suffered a heavy fall but recovered to help his team win bronze.
Image of senior men's team courtesy British Athletics