Emelia Gorecka continued her comeback with a stellar display to win the senior women’s race at the British Athletics Cross Challenge in Liverpool on Saturday (November 25), while Ben Connor clinched the men’s event with an impressive performance.
Proving that cross country mud doesn’t play by any rules, Gorecka upset the odds to beat race favourites Jess Judd and Gemma Steel to the top podium spot in the senior women’s race.
The Aldershot Farnham and District athlete has had a frustrating period of injuries, but after helping her club retain the English Cross Country Relay crown earlier this month, the 23-year-old has followed suit with an individual cross country performance to match.
With conditions muddy after recent rainfall, it was always going to be a battle of grit and determination in Sefton Park and Gorecka had it in abundance.
Judd was seeking her third consecutive Cross Challenge win, and after a tightly contested race, it was the Aldershot athlete who pulled away from her Chelmsford rival. Judd gave it her all in the chase, but Gorecka powered on impressively to win in 27:59 – seven seconds ahead of Judd in 28:06.
Four-time winner at Liverpool, Gemma Steel (Charnwood AC) filled the bronze medal position in a not too distant 28:16. Elle Vernon of Stockport AC had a fantastic race in fourth position, two seconds ahead of Lily Partridge (Aldershot, Farnham and District) in times of 28:24 and 28:26.
In 6th place overall finished Phoebe Law with a superb run to place her second in the under 23 category. With Judd’s second place it meant three of the top seven women were under 23 athletes indicating a very promising future for women’s distance running. Amy Griffiths of Aldershot Farnham & District was 7th overall. The following athletes completed the top six under 23 women; Mhairi Maclennan (Morpeth Harriers), Philippa Bowden (Aldershot & Farnham Ac) and Stephie Pennycook (Fife Ac)
Gorecka said afterwards: “I’ve said all year round, I just wanted to get back racing and be healthy. Me and Chris [Thompson] have been talking about getting here happy and healthy, and we managed that, so we thought ‘why not’. He told me to use my instinct and I hoped it would still be there. He empowered me to believe in myself. I didn’t know what would happen as I’ve hardly raced against those girls this year, but he was right and I managed to win.”
English cross country champion Connor produced a fantastic performance to finish two seconds clear of Southampton’s Alex Teuten and seal the victory in the men’s race.
Connor crossed the line in 30:18 over the 9.8km course. The inform Sam Stabler completed the podium six seconds behind Teuten, to repeat the top three from February’s English XC Championships.
Stabler and Teuten both 25, deservedly earn their first GB vests for next month’s European Cross Country Championships. The pair missed out on the representing Britain at the World XC championships eight months ago after the governing body opted not to send a team.
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Dewi Griffiths, who has been in untouchable form these last few months, couldn’t quite find the race many had expected. The Welshman and 2:09 marathoner finished one second off Stabler take fourth and the final automatic spot for the GB Euro XC team.
The top four men all finished within ten seconds of each other with Teuten in 30:20, Stabler in 30:26 and Griffiths in 30:27. Andy Butchart, the winner in 2016, struggled in the conditions and finished a further 10 seconds behind in fifth. Sixth place was Milton Keynes winner Mahamed Mahamed in 30:40.
The Southampton AC youngster was the first of the under 23 category incorporated into the senior race. Patrick Dever of Preston Harriers finished a fine second with Chris Olley (Tonbridge AC) third under 23 – both men finishing 12th and 13th overall. Completing the top six were; Daniel Jarvis Liverpool Harriers, Jack Rowe Aldershot Farnham & district and Joe Steward (East Cheshire Harriers).
Connor commented afterwards: “I really wanted to win it. I wanted to push it on and make it an honest race and I did that. It was tight and I knew Alex (Teuten) was closing me down over the last bit but I managed to hold on. It is great to win this race – I have won here as an age group runner in the past so it is nice to add a senior win.”
In the junior races, it was Ben Dijkstra of who took the win for the boys with Will Richardson and George Pool completing the podium. The next three places were; Matt Willis, Jake Heyward and Scott Beattie.
The junior women battled over _km4.4km and it was the familiar sight of Harriet Knowles Jones who emerged victorious. Behind her Khahisa Mhlanga crossed the line 14 seconds adrift with Cari Hughes in third. Completing the top six places and hoping to be considered for the team in Slovakia were Niamh Brown, Erin Wallace and Victoria Weir.
In total six places are for grabs in the senior, under 23 and junior categories to represent Britain at the European Cross-country Championships in Slovakia next month. The first four in each category were determined automatically by the top four finishers in Liverpool, with a further two places left to the selector’s discretion.
The selection committee will meet on Monday to finalise all of the teams.
A review of other UK racing highlights this weekend can be found here.