Great Britain’s Hayley Yelling produced one of the greatest comebacks in the history of cross country running, when she sensationally took the gold medal at the Spar European Cross Country Championships in Dublin’s Santry Park on Sunday (13).
The 35-year-old had originally ended her career a year ago after the championships in Brussels. But she came back in Dublin, ran away from the field early on and amazingly held on to take her second gold at these championships. Yelling had won the European Cross Country back in 2004, when her victory in Heringsdorf, Germany had also come unexpected.
But this victory today was really sensational. Yelling finished the 8.018km race in 27:49 and was seven seconds ahead of Rosa Morato (Spain/27:56). Adrienne Herzog (Netherlands) was third with 28:04 – a podium no one could have predicted.
“I can’t believe it, I feel great. I am in shock, but I said that after Liverpool as well,” said Yelling, who had won the Liverpool trial race as well. “I had not expected to qualify for Dublin so I could not have had any thoughts of winning this one.”
It was another surprise that none of the Portugese runners, who were regarded as favourites, managed to win a medal. Jessica Augusto (28:11), who was second a year ago, Ines Monteiro (28:14) and Dulce Felix (28:19) came in fourth, fifth and sixth. But Portugal at least found some consolation because they won the team gold medal. Great Britain took silver while Spain was third.
In dry and cold weather conditions the course turned more and more muddy from race to race. When Yelling went off early in the race none of the favourites followed her, probably expecting that she would not last long for long running alone at front.
Yelling, who works fulltime as a teacher for maths, expected the others to catch her as well. “I just wanted to go out hard, because I know that’s how I race better – I just go out and hang on for as long as possible. I expected them to all come past me but luckily they did not.”
With roughly two miles covered Yelling was around 20 metres ahead of a group of five: Jessica Augusto, Adrienne Herzog, Rosa Morato, Dulce Felix and Ines Monteiro. Ireland’s hopes for a medal meanwhile were not to materialise. Mary Cullen had lost contact to the chasing group and finally finished in 12th position (28:45), one behind her teammate Fionnuala Britton (28:39).
It was then Morato who increased the pace in the third lap. She stretched the group and it looked as if it would only be a matter of a few minutes until a fighting Hayley Yelling would be caught by Morato and Augusto. But it never happened. Yelling found a better rhythm again and sometimes even ran around some mud passages – that was a longer way, but saved energy. Morato chose the direct way and was getting tired later on. The experience Yelling always managed to keep the gap of around six seconds to Morato.
“I was running scared I think. I thought with two medium laps to go they would come back but I didn’t know where they were or how far behind. I thought they might have a quick last lap,“ said Yelling and added: “I had no expectation at all, I just wanted to enjoy it. I was thinking about the team. I have been back doing training sessions for about a month. I might do a few more races and see how I am doing but I am not looking as far as the World Cross or anything.”
Under 23 Race: Sultan Haydar holds on at second attempt
A year ago Turkey’s Sultan Haydar had surprised her rivals in the Under 23 Race by surging away early and building a substantial lead. But the longer the race lasted the bigger problems she got and finally she gave up in round three. It looked as if she could make the same mistake in Dublin again. But this time the 22-year-old from Turkey held on.
Soon after the start Haydar, who originally comes from Ethiopia, started pushing the pace and moved clear together with Romania’s Roxana Barca, who later faded badly and finished 25th. Between those two and the big pack Jessica Sparke and Stephanie Twell ran in third and fourth positions. After two of the four laps Haydar was all on her own and had an advantage of 13 seconds. But then the European Under 23 champion in the 1500 m slowed considerably. Meanwhile behind her Russia’s Irina Sergeyeva had worked her way through and was closing the gap quickly.
When it was going into the last lap Haydar’s advantage was down to four seconds and soon afterwards Irina Sergeyava caught the leader. But Haydar hung on and on the home straight she was able to move away once again, winning in 21:14 minutes from Sergeyeva (21:15). Sparke secured a bronze medal with 21:26.
“It was a tough race and I got tired. But I was still able to sprint at the end,” said Haydar. “I am happy for myself and for Turkey.”
Stephanie Twell, who had won three European Junior Cross Country titles and now started in the Under 23 category for the first time in this event, finished 11th in 21:42. There was still a gold medal for Stephanie Twell since the British team took the team event from Russia and France.
Junior Race: Karoline Grovdal wins first gold for Norway
The first gold of the day went to Norway – and it was the first time ever that a Norwegian runner won a race in the history of the Spar European Cross Country Championships. Karoline Grovdal took the initiative early in the 4.039km race. After about 500 metres the 19-year-old had got away from the field, but Russia’s Gulshat Fazlitdinova went with her.
With the course not too muddy at the first race Grovdal, who is the reigning European Junior champion in the Steeplechase as well as in the 5000 m and was therefore regarded a favourite in Dublin, decided to continue running hard. After 1km she was already alone and increased her advantage. But at the end she started faltering but managed to hold on when Fazlitdinova closed the gap.
Grovdal, who is a successful cross country skier as well, finished in 14:10 with an advantage of two second. Fazlitdinova took second (14:12) while further back Kate Avery (Great Britain) took the bronze in 14:27. Germany’s Corinna Harrer came in fourth (14:33). Russia took the team title while Britain was second and Germany third.
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF
Click here for RESULTS