10 DEC 2006 General News San Giorgio su Legnano, Italy

Holovchenko unexpectedly triumphs – European Cross Country Champs, Women’s Races

Tetyana Holovchenko of Ukraine wins the senior women's title at 2006 European XC (Mark Shearman)Tetyana Holovchenko of Ukraine wins the senior women's title at 2006 European XC (Mark Shearman) © Copyright

Propelled by a gutsy front-running performance, Tetyana Holovchenko of Ukraine stormed to the women’s senior title, while Portugal edged Great Britain in the closest team race ever at the 13th SPAR European Cross Country Championships.

"I never expected to win,” said the 26-year-old, until now better known as a 1500 metre specialist.  “I thought that a place in the top three was within my reach.”

Yet from the outset, she ran with a vigour which illustrated that that nothing short of victory would satisfy the competitive ferocity she put on display.

Russian Maria Konovalova took the initiative from the outset, setting a tempo that initially only Holovchenko decided to match. Running on the Russian’s shoulder, the pair quickly created a 15 metre lead on a chase pack that included Briton Jo Pavey, Hungary’s Aniko Kalovics, and Hayley Yelling, the 2004 winner from Great Britain.

Konovalova, this year’s Russian national cross country champion, continued to control the tempo for much of the second lap, while Kalovics, Pavey, Yelling, and Serbian Olivera Jevtic narrowed the gap to create a fairly large lead pack midway through the race.

As the pack began the final lap, Kalovics took a brief lead, a fleeting move that the remaining contenders - Konovalova, Holovchenko, Jevtic and Yelling - responded too, but one that would eventually eliminate the Hungarian. Soon thereafter Yelling dropped back, while Jevtic, the European Championship silver medallist in the Marathon and a four-time bronze medallist in this event, looked ready to strike as the trio, led by the Hungarian, made their way towards the backstretch of the stadium track, some 250 metres from the finish.

But Jevtic couldn’t manage an attack while Holovchenko, with 2:00.81 and 4:05.01 middle distance bests to her credit, used her track speed to maintain her ground en route to her surprise one-second victory over the Russian in 25:17 over the 8030m course. Three seconds later, Jevtic collected bronze medal No. 5, while Kalovics reached the line another five seconds later, again missing out on a podium position.

Inga Abitova, the surprise 10,000m winner at last summer’s European Championships, was never a threat here. Out of the hunt by the end of the second lap, the 24-year-old Russian faded to a distant 31st.

While Holovchenko’s was the first medal of any kind for a Ukrainian woman at these championships, the Portuguese women prevailed in the team battle after the first tie-breaker ever.

Despite Yelling’s sixth place showing and Pavey’s eighth, solid pack running by the Portuguese – Jessica August, Analia Rosa and Leonor Carniero finished 9-10-11 – gave them the edge in the team title. In a thrilling finish, Portugal’s No. 4, Monica Rosa, edged Kate Reed, Great Britain’s No. 4, by the narrowest of margins – each clocked 26:08 – to give the Portuguese their fifth team crown. A solid performance in the race’s second half gave France their third straight team bronze over an under-achieving Russian team, 69 to 88.

Despite the 24 hour rainfall that soaked this small town of 6000 located some 20 kilometres northeast of Milan, conditions were in the end quite favourable, with the morning’s sunny skies leaving yesterday’s muddy course quite manageable.

U23 Race - Uslu returns to podium top

Binnaz Uslu, who two years ago in Heringsdorf won Turkey’s second-ever title as a junior, added a third with her commanding victory in the inaugural Under 23 event.

Leading a pack of seven after the first lap, the challengers were reduced to six a lap later until the 21-year-old shifted gears midway through the third circuit to run away with the victory in 18:47 over the 5975m course. Irishwoman Fionnuala Britton closed well over the race’s second half to secure a solid runner-up, nine seconds behind the Uslu but 13 seconds clear of Turkan Erismis, another Turk.

With Aine Hoban’s fourth place showing and Laura Kenney’s eighth, Great Britain took the team title with 56 points, nine ahead of Poland (65), while hosts Italy, paced by Adelina De Soccio’s fifth place finish, were a distant third, with 96 points.

Junior Race - Twell's victory set the tone for Great Britain

The fine day for the British women began in the junior race. With a strong front-running performance, Stephanie Twell out-duelled Norwegian Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal to become only the second British woman to win a junior title at these championships.

Running comfortably behind defending champion Ancuta Bobocel during the initial stages, Twell, a 1500m finalist at this year’s World Junior Championships, jumped to the lead midway through the first of two 1875m laps to take control of the race. Grovdal, at 16 a year Twell’s junior, stayed with the Briton until just before the pair entered the stadium.

“I’m just overwhelmed,” said Twell, nearly overcome with emotion after her 12:33 run over the 4100m course, to reach the line three seconds ahead of Grovdal. “I can’t believe I won today. I was hoping for a top-five finish.” Twell, was a distant seventh last year.

Only four women remained in contention after the first lap - Twell, Grovdal, Bobucel, and Briton Emily Pidgeon, last year’s runner-up – before Twell and Grovdal engaged in a stride-for-stride battle for much of the second lap, soon leaving the remaining two to fight it out for third. Bobucel won that battle to take third and finish her junior career with a complete collection of medals, after last year’s gold and the silver from 2004.

With the 1-4 finish by Twell and Pidgeon, along with Sian Edwards’ sixth and Abby Westley’s 10th, the British romped to the team title with 21 points, well ahead of Russia (76) and Romania (83). Spain, with 98 points, was fifth.

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF

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On the path to Mombasa 2007

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