In an upset that surprised even the winner, Hayley Yelling claimed the women’s European cross country crown with a stunning sprint in the final 20 metres at the 11th SPAR European Cross Country Championships.
Slipping past Poland’s Justyna Bak, the 30-year-old Yelling sped to an 18:06 win over the challenging 5.640km course to become only the second Briton -the other was two-time winner Paula Radcliffe - to win an individual title.
“I really thought she was going to out-sprint me,” Yelling said with an ear-to-ear grin, “because I don’t have a sprint!”
While the race was wide-open, no one predicted a win for Yelling, even when it became apparent that she was out to control the race.
Hungary’s Aniko Kalovics, third last year, took the immediate lead with Yelling a stride behind. The Briton soon took over, leading a fairly large pack that included Portugal’s Monica Rosa, Kalovics, Russia’s Lilia Shobukhova, Bak, teammate Jo Pavey, Romanian Mihaela Botezan and half a dozen others after the first 1100 metres.
The order shifted just before the midway point with the Hungarian retaking control while German favorite Sabrina Mockenhaupt moved into striking distance. Livening up the crowd, the 23-year-old German briefly took command 11 minutes into the race, until Pavey decided to push the pace. Behind her, the order continued to shift, with Bak and Botezan moving up while Yelling, appearing to tire from her early pace-setting, fell back to fourth.
The order didn’t change until Bak, a steeplechase specialist, switched gears some 120 metres from the finish, headed to what seemed certain victory. But Yelling wasn’t finished.
“In the last 40 metres, I thought I’d be fourth,” Yelling said. “But then I remembered the last Olympics, that I missed qualifying for by just 14 one-hundredths of a second. So I fought and won.”
Bak, the top European and fourth overall in last weekend's Cross International de la Constitución in Alcobendas, Spain, held on to take the silver, just a second in front of Pavey who edged Botezan by the narrowest of margins to take the bronze.
Despite the narrow defeat, Bak was quite pleased with her performance. “I wasn’t expecting second place,” she admitted. “I don’t care that first place was just a few centimetres away.”
Pavey, who was equally surprised with her podium finish, seemed even more thrilled for her teammate.
“I’m so thrilled for her, especially after she missed the Olympic qualifier by just a few hundredths. She deserves some good luck.”
Mockenhaupt, who said yesterday she wouldn’t be happy without a top-ten finish, lived up to her own expectations with her fifth place showing, four seconds behind Botezan.
“It was hard for me especially in the hills,’ she said, “but if you do not run a courageous race you cannot win anything.” Hers was the highest-ever finish by a German women in these championships.
Team – Portugal packs well
Yet even a 1-3 finish for Great Britain couldn’t match the depth Portugal brought to Seebad Heringsdorf. Led by the 6-7-10 finish by Monica Rosa, Ines Monteiro and Analia Rosa, the Portuguese edged the defending champions 38 to 43.
Mockenhaupt’s showing led the hosts to a 97-point score, only the second team podium finish for Germany, equaling their third place showing in 2000.
“I had a tough time during the last lap, but I told myself the whole time that every point is important –and because of that one point, we got third!”
France was fourth with 98 points.
Junior women – Turkey’s prize
The junior race was captured by Binnaz Uslu’s convincing 11:33 win, nine seconds ahead of Romanian Ancuta Bobocel over the 3.640km course.
“It was quite an easy race for me, the 19-year-old Turk said. “In any case, I believe in all my races that I can win.”
At 2100m, Bobocel, the silver medallist in the steeplechase at this year’s World Junior Championships, Uslu, Spain’s Marta Romo and Russian Regina Khamzina forged a four-second lead on the rest of the pack. Two minute later, the Russian and Spaniard fell off the pace, leaving just Bobocel and Uslu. The two tussled and elbowed their way through the last lap when the Turk took the lead for good with 600 metres to go.
Romo, who will celebrate her 17th birthday on Christmas, held on for third in 11:46, three seconds ahead of Dutchwoman Adrienne Herzog.
With all four scorers in the top twenty, Romania won its first junior team title with 51 points, well ahead of defending champions Britain, who edged Russia for the silver, 65 to 69. Belarus was a distant fourth (84).
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF
European Cross Country Championships
Senior Women (5.64 km):
1) Hayley Yelling GBR 18:06
2) Justyna Bak POL 18:07
3) Jo Pavey GBR 18:08
4) Mihaela Botezan ROM 18:08
5) Sabrina Mockenhaupt GER 18:12
6) Mónica Rosa POR 18:13
7) Inês Monteiro POR 18:16
8) Anikó Kálovics HUN 18:17
1) POR 38
2) GBR 43
3) GER 97
Junior Women (3.64 km):
1) Binnaz Uslu TUR 11:33
2) Ancuta Bobocel ROM 11:42
3) Marta Romo ESP 11:46
4) Adrienne Herzog NED 11:49
5) Ingunn Opsal NOR 11:50
6) Volha Minina BLR 11:50
7) Verena Dreier GER 11.53
8) Helene Guet FRA 11.53
1) ROM 51
2) GBR 65
3) RUS 68
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