Provided by IAAF

9 December 2012 – Budapest, Hungary – On a cold day in Hungary, some hotly-contested races at the 19th Spar European Cross Country Championships saw Andrea Lalli take the senior men’s title and Fionnuala Britton become the first female back-to-back winner.

Held in the quaint town of Szentendre just a few miles north of Budapest, a blanket of snow made the setting even more picturesque on a course that saw athletes run past a windmill and through an old barn.

But the weather also made the course a more testing one and even threatened to scupper the travel plans of many of the teams. Fortunately though, all teams made it safely to Budapest and the event witnessed a record-breaking number of athletes take part.

Hassan Chahdi of France was the first to show his cards in the senior men’s race, opening up a notable lead six minutes into the race with Italy’s Andrea Lalli just a couple of strides behind. Chahdi, competing in his first race since this event last year, was soon passed by Lalli but Chahdi remained in close contact, comfortably ahead of a chase pack led by Turkey’s Polat Kemboi Arikan.

Approaching the half-way mark, Chahdi was swallowed up by the chase pack as Lalli pressed ahead. Lalli, winner of the junior title in 2006 and under-23 title in 2008, went into the final lap with a 20-second lead over the chase group, which still contained eight runners all in contention to win a minor medal.

On the last lap Lalli looked behind on several occasions, almost in shock that he was leading by such a huge margin. Waving to the crowd and picking up an Italian flag en route, Lalli enjoyed the final stretch of the course as he stopped the clock in 30:01.

Chahdi found a second win to come through in the closing stages to take silver, while Lalli’s team-mate Daniele Meucci finished well for the bronze medal. Former nine-time champion Sergey Lebid, now 37, finished a solid 15th while defending champion Atewlaw Bekele was well off the pace in 57th.

With three athletes in the top 10, Spain took the team title ahead of Britain with Italy securing the bronze.

Britton once again holds off Felix to successfully defend title

By the end of the second lap in the women’s race, the field had bunched as defending champion Fionnuala Britton found herself a reluctant leader with Ana Ducle Felix right on her shoulder. Italy’s Nadia Ejjafini, who narrowly missed out on a medal last year, was also right behind Britton and the top three positions remained the same for the next two laps.

Not long after completing the fourth lap, the pace increased as a lead group of seven athletes broke away with Britton opening up some daylight on her opponents. Felix suddenly dropped back and instead it was Belgium’s Almensh Belete who tracked the leader.

As the bell rang for the final lap, Britton was still leading but Belete looked extremely comfortable just a stride behind. Meanwhile Portugal’s Felix had made up significant ground to move into the bronze medal position ahead of Adrine Herzog of the Netherlands.

Less than a kilometre before the finish, Britton dug in deep and Belete began to fall behind out of the top three. Just a few metres behind Felix was kicking hard but Britton kept her focus and maintained her lead to the line, winning in 27:45. Two seconds adrift, Felix also replicated her position from last year, while Herzog held on for the bronze medal ahead of Belete.

With three athletes in the top 20, Ireland found themselves the surprise winners of the team title, one point ahead of France as Britain took the bronze.

Gold at last for Terzic

The junior women’s race began to unfold at the half-way stage, when defending champion Emelia Gorecka moved to the lead and began to push the pace. The Briton was tracked closely by Serbia’s Amela Terzic, who had twice previously made it on to the podium at this event but had never won gold.

Terzic – double European junior champion on the track in 2011 – temporarily took the lead after the second lap, but with 800 metres of running left Gorecka moved back into the front and suddenly opened up a sizeable gap on Terzic, who looked as though she had nothing left.

But with the finish line in sight, Terzic found an extra burst of energy and kicked hard, leaving Gorecka in her wake. She continued to pull away and won comfortably in 13:29, eight seconds ahead of Gorecka, while Germany’s Maya Rehberg finished well to take bronze in 13:43. For the eighth time in the past nine years, Britain took the team title.

It wasn’t until two thirds into the junior men’s race that significant moves were made. Tired of running as part of a large lead group, Poland’s Szymon Kulka pressed ahead along with Mitko Tsenov of Bulgaria and Isaac Kimeli of Germany. The trio opened up a lead of around 10 metres on the chase pack with Kulka gradually edging in front.

In the last five minutes of running, Kulka’s lead grew and grew and he crossed the line victorious in 18:43, four seconds ahead of Tsenov who gained Bulgaria’s first ever medal in this event. Kimeli faded in the closing stages as Britain’s Kieran Clements came through to take bronze in 18:57.

The team contest was a close one as Russia took gold with 50 points, one point ahead of France with Britain taking bronze on 54 points.

Ingebrigtsen and Coulson run away with under-23 titles

In the men’s under-23 race it initially looked as though Spain’s Abdelaziz Merzoughi was on for a gun-to-tape victory after opening up a huge lead of around 60 metres just minutes into the race. Winner of the junior race two years ago, Merzoughi began to struggle just before half way and was caught 11 minutes into the race.

US-based Belgian Soufiane Bouchikhi then took up the running, gradually pulling away from the rest of the field. With one lap to go Bouchikhi had a nine-second lead, but then Norway’s European 1500m champion Henrik Ingebrigtsen set out in pursuit of the Belgian.

Ingebrigtsen moved ahead of Bouchikhi just before they passed through the barn. With little more than two minutes left, the middle-distance specialist showed impressive endurance as he powered his way to the finish, eventually crossing the line 10 seconds ahead of Bouchikhi. Britain’s James Wilkinson came through to take bronze.

Although they did not have any individual medallists, France took the team honours ahead of Spain while Britain finished one point ahead of Norway to grab the bronze.

In the women’s under-23 race, Britain’s Jess Coulson ran away with the title. After just four and a half minutes of running, Layes Abdullayeva lost a shoe and as she tried to hold on to it, it caused a few of the other runners to collide into her and fall. The Azerbaijani athlete got back into the race, albeit minus her shoe, but was never really a threat from then on.

A few minutes later Coulson moved into the lead, tracked closely by Russian duo Liudmila Lebedeva and Gulshat Fazlitdinova. After the third lap Coulson began to forge ahead and with around two kilometres to go, her lead had suddenly grown to nine seconds.

As she passed through the barn on the final lap, her lead had extended to 15 seconds. Although Lebedeva closed slightly in the closing stages to finish within nine seconds of the Briton, Coulson was a clear winner in 20:40. France’s Clemence Clavin was third (20:52).

With the best score of the day, team honours went to Russia ahead of Britain and Germany.