Gemma Steel (coach: John Nuttall) and Rhona Auckland (Joyce Hogg) produced an impressive display of cross country running to finish in 18th and 19th place respectively at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang, China.
Tackling the challenging and winding course, Steel and Auckland matched each other stride for stride in the last lap to finish as the second and third European athletes in the race. Prior to the arriving in the Far East, it was eight years since two British women had finished in the top 20 and Steel was delighted to improve on her 31st place finish from Bydgoszcz two years ago.
Steel, the reigning European Cross Country champion said: “I’m over the moon especially considering how hard it was out there. I did it the hard way, but I did it the way I always do it – hard from the start. I gave myself a chance to be there with the lead group but they were just a little bit quick for me.
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world, I love running on the road but you can’t beat the atmosphere in the team. It gave me a chance to experience the junior side of it because they’re all buzzing from their first GB vest so it’s nice to feed off that excitement.”
Auckland was making her first appearance since winning the European Cross Country U23 title in December admitted that her roommate was crucial to her performance in Guiyang after three months on the sidelines.
“I’m absolutely delighted – it was really good to have Gemma to work off and try and keep her in sight. It was also great running with the Chinese athlete (Xinyan Zhang) as well because the crowd were going mental for her, so we were working off that.
“I look up to Gemma and she’s someone I aspire to be like so to be close to her and learn off her is great. I’ve been bugging her with questions all week, so she’s probably glad to get rid of me.
“It’s given me great deal of confidence – we were the second and third Europeans so it’s good that we can maintain that competitiveness three months later (after the European Cross Country Championships).”
Alex George (Paul de-Camps), who endured a long flight from his base in Arkansas, USA to compete for GB & NI did not disappoint as the 19 year old finished 39th and was understandably delighted with his run.
“I’m really happy with my performance. I came here off an indoor season not doing much cross country specific work in preparation for this, so a cracking effort.
“I’m really proud to represent my country and to be the first Brit home. I’m honoured to be here and to be a part of such an amazing young team.”
Joe Steward finished 14 places back in 53rd, while teammates Elliot Bowker (Andrew Carter), Jonathan Glen (Mark Pollard) and Chris Olley (Mark Hookway) finished 72nd, 79th and 102nd respectively. After a strong opening lap, Jac Hopkins (Kevin Tobin) following a heavy fall but the team still finished in 13th place overall.
In the senior men’s race, Charlie Hulson, the English Cross Country National Champion was the first GB & NI counter to cross the line in 55th place ahead of Dewi Griffiths (Kevin Evans) in 70th, captain Jonny Hay (Mick Woods) in 84th and Andrew Butchart (Derek Easton) in 86th place to end the day 15th in the team standings.
Hulson said afterwards: “It was a really strong run – it went off at a ridiculous pace, but I didn’t go off too hard, but hard enough. It was a really tough course with all those hills, you’ve just got to make sure you play them right otherwise you end up too far back which is demotivating.
“It’s the best performance of my life and I just wanted to put myself in contention, which I feel I did.”
Hannah Nuttall (Bill Foster) equipped herself well on her GB & NI debut, finishing 45th in the junior women’s race and admits that the experience of racing against the world’s best was a real eye opener.
“It was really quick to begin with and I didn’t know if it was going to slow down. It eased down but the race got harder and harder,” the 17 year old explained.
“It’s my first time racing for GB, so I didn’t know where I’d come, so I’m happy with my performance.”
Bronwen Owen (Andrew Henderson) was next to cross the line in 72nd, with Abbie Donnelly (Rob Lewis) 80th and Grace Baker (Woods) 82nd. After sustaining a fall in the second lap, Amy Griffiths (Woods) was forced to withdraw from the race.
You can watch highlights from the IAAF World Cross Country Championships on BBC 2 at 16:00 (16:30 on BBC 2 Scotland).