A three year winning sequence was brought to an end today in Margate (UK), as Hungarian Aniko Kalovics led home all the British hopefuls for next month’s European Cross Country Championships in Medulin, Croatia.
The British Trials for the European Championships were held within the Reebok Cross Challenge event and no athlete other than a Yelling – European cross country fifth placer Liz or her sister-in-law Hayley – have won a race in the series for three years.
Indeed, Liz was unbeaten in her previous nine Reebok Cross Challenge races Kalovics, who learned about the event when reading the IAAF website, prevented her taking that sequence into double figures.
With both Yellings recovering from colds, they could finish only third (Hayley) and fourth (Liz) as 2000 AAA 1,500m champion Hayley Tullett produced a strong display in a rare cross country outing and took the runner-up spot.
British junior 10,000m record-holder Charlotte Dale, who opted to run the senior race rather than the junior event having been promised selection for the junior team in Medelin, was prominent during the first half as Kalovics, Tullett and the Yellings battled it out on a firm Margate course.
In the previous Reebok event, in Birmingham, Dale had won the junior race and then finished second to Hayley Yelling in the senior event half an hour later, but on this occasion she slipped back as Kalovics poured on the pressure and pulled clear of her rivals during the second lap.
She admitted: “I did not expect to win. I knew I was in very good form because I ran a Hungarian record of 69:16 in Udine, Italy last month. My best distances are the 10,000m and half-marathon but I want to run well in the European Cross Country Championships and needed a race beforehand.
“When I read about the race on the IAAF website my manager arranged for me to come over and run. This was only the second time I have run in Britain, as I ran when the World Half-marathon Championships were in Bristol. I was aware of athletes like Liz Yelling, because she ran against me that day, so I knew it would not be easy.”
Tullett, coached by former Olympic steeplechase bronze medallist Mark Rowland, was delighted with her return to action as she said: “I was very pleased because it was my first race for three months after ending my track season early. I had such a disappointing track season but I decided to target this race and it went well. I won’t race excessively on the country this winter as I also plan to race indoors, but when I do race I like to be competitive and I have to be happy with today.”
With the first three Britons guaranteed selection for the European Championships, the Yellings clinched selection while veteran Dianne Henaghan was next over the line and if she is chosen it will justify her decision to turn down selection for Saturday’s Chiba Ekiden Relay in Japan. Youngster Louise Damen ran very well in sixth, followed by junior Dale, and then Sharon Morris to stay in the minds of selectors who were due to meet after the race before announcing the GB team later in the week.
With Paula Radcliffe not seeking selection, the only other athlete likely to be considered is former national cross country champion Tara Krzywicki. The ex-Welsh international footballer finished 11th, and eighth senior Briton, but is getting back to fitness following a lengthy injury lay-off and in a month’s time can be expected to be much fitter.
The senior men’s race saw an exciting battle for guaranteed selection behind winner Allen Graffin. The 24-year-old, coached by former world cross country silver medallist Tim Hutchings, regarded his victory as one of the best in his career as he said: “I don’t seem to win many races. I’m not very good at converting good performances into victories so this has to be one of my best.”
Graffin, first Briton in last month’s Great North Run when he ran 64:09 in his first serious attempt at the distance, piled on the pressure on the second of three laps with only Ben Noad attempting going with him.
Former national cross country champion Glynn Tromans described the second lap as a ‘triple whammy’ as he said: “There were three increases in pace, and they split the pack into single file. Dominic Bannister made the first move to string them out, then I followed on from him and picked it up further, and then Allen injected even more pace and went away from us. After that there were four of us chasing the two guaranteed places behind Allen.”
Noad admitted he soon realised he couldn’t stay with Graffin and could see Tromans, Bannister and Spencer Barden hunting him down, and although they caught him he showed enough in the closing stages to win the battle for second.
Tromans guaranteed his 10th cross country championships appearance in third, saying: “I have run in six successive world cross country championships and this will be four Europeans – not to mention world half-marathon championships and the Commonwealth Games – and considering my first world cross was at the age of 28 that should give hope to others that you’re never too old.”
The ever-consistent Bannister, who first ran on this Margate course 11 years ago when placing 14th in a race won by Richard Nerurkar, looks certain to be selected with Barden likely to join him.
Former European cross country champion Jon Brown had earlier indicated he may consider running but is now unlikely to, while Olympic 10,000m finalist Karl Keska is also not targeting the race, but national cross country champion Sam Haughian is on the way back from a hip injury. Although back in training he hasn’t raced since the European Championships, so Matt Smith – winner of the opening Reebok event at Liverpool - could come into contention.
Britain has high hopes in the junior men’s race for Medulin although European junior 5,000m champion Mohamed Farah missed the Trials with a calf injury. If fit he is certain to be selected but the nature of Tom Sharland’s performance in winning the trial suggests he will also be well placed.
Scotland has had some fine distance runners in recent years, such as Liz McColgan and Yvonne Murray, and they provided the junior women’s victor in Freya Murray. Holland’s Adrienne Herzog was second so the two remaining guaranteed selection places went to Lisa Dobriskey and under-17 star Katrina Wootton.
The latter, the European Youth Olympics 1,500m champion, is a member of the same Bedford and County club as Paula Radcliffe and shares the same coach in Alex Stanton. She has already broken several of Radcliffe’s club age group records and last week set an under-17 course record at the English Cross Country Relay Championships where her time was one second faster than Radcliffe ran as an under-20.
Senior men (9.5km)
1 Allen Graffin 28:33
2 Ben Noad 28:42
3 Glynn Tromans 28:43
4 Dominic Bannister 28:44
5 Spencer Barden 28:46
6 Haggai Chepkwony (KEN) 28:58
7 Matt Smith 29:00
8 Dermot Donnelly 29:01
9 Ollie Laws 29:02
10 Chris Thompson 29:07
Senior women (5.5km)
1 Aniko Kalovics (HUN) 17:58
2 Hayley Tullett 18:01
3 Hayley Yelling 18:05
4 Liz Yelling 18:11
5 Dianne Henaghan (veteran) 18:22
6 Louise Damen 18:26
7 Charlotte Dale (junior) 18:31
8 Sharon Morris 18:37
9 Pauline Curley (IRL) 18:42
10 Maxine Baker 18:44
Junior men (6km)
1 Tom Sharland 18:12
2 Luke Beever 18:25
3 Tom Humphries 18:30
4 Ed Prickett 18:31
5 Jonathon Blackledge 18:32
6 Scott Overall 18:38
Junior women (3.5km)
1 Freya Murray 11:55
2 Adrienne Herzog (NED) 11:57
3 Lisa Dobriskey 11:58
4 Katrina Wootton (under-17) 12:03
5 Dani Barnes (under-17) 12:08
6 Rachel Mason 12:15