Santry, Dublin 13th December 2009
Saturday 13th December 2009 had finally arrived. Irish running enthusiasts had the chance to have the great spectacle of the European Cross Country Championships in our own back yard -the Santry demesne, rather than on TV in our sitting rooms. The course that was graced with Merrick, Cunningham, Duffy et al. at the national inter-clubs only a few months ago, now hosted the cream of Europe’s running talent fighting it out for the big prize.
A huge crowd turned out to watch the days events; consisting of Ladies and Mens Junior, U-23 and Senior races. The young Irish teams gave a great account of themselves, representing their country with great distinction. The Senior Ladies was dominated form start to finish by the relentless Liz Yelling. In a feat of great courage and confidence Liz blew the rest of the field away with an awesome display of front running. She powered around the course with mechanical efficiancy, her arms driving her along like pistons while the rest of the field struggled through the heavy mud.
The strongly fancied Portugese athletes fought it out for the remaining places, but claimed the team prize as expected. The Irish challenge did not materialise as hoped. Fionnula Britton was first home with a highly creditable tenth place and return to form after a frustrating couple of years. Mary Cullen had high hopes here but could not find the big performance when she needed it the most. She started off towards the front before falling back after half way and looked to be struggling. Mary dug deep though and showed to work her way back up the field, eventually finish in twelfth place. She will be glad to put 2009 behind her – a year in which she faced great adversity following her brilliant bronze in the European Indoors in March. Class though… is permanent. Deirdre Byrne put in a brave display, looking at one point the strongest of the trio after closing in on her team mates and puttig the team in a strong medal position. It was tragically not to be though as Deirdre fell away on the last lap. It appeared that she hit the wall, but could well have picked up an injury, such was the diminished pace of her final kilometre. Deirdre is a calibre athlete though who will no doubt have a great track season come the summer.
The men’s race was expected to be a rerun of the epic duel of last year between the Ukranian legend and nine time winner of this title Sergei Lebed and Mo Farah, Britain’s main man in long distance who pushed Lebed all the way last year. The men tore off like the wild horses pulling the chariots of fire around the colesseum. It was quite something to witness these thoroughbreads at such close quarters. It was clear from early on that Lebed was not going to complete a decade of dominance. Farah and the Spaniard Bezabeh (born in Africa) quickly escaped and made a two horse race of it. The two went stride for stride before the Spaniard turned the screw around half way. Farah dropped off but then fought his way admirably back onto the shoulder of the Spaniard. However, as is often the case with such a titanic effort Farah had shot his bolt and could not match his opponent in the finishing straight. Farah collapsed at the end, needing medical attention such was the heart and soul he put into the race.
The Irish men overall flattered to deceive. The performance of the day came form the Dublin-based Mark Kenneally, who overshadowed his more celebrated US-based team mates to finish a fantastic eighth. Mark went out hard and held his own all the way, showing great stamina and strength inachieving a career high. Fagan was next in in 26th, a disappointment given his promising display in the past two years. Cragg was 40th, not appearing to relish the difficult conditions. Many anoraks waxed lyrical about their preparation for the race, flying into Dublin at the last minute to avoid the after effects of ‘coming down’ from altitude. It would appear the finer details of race preparation can be over analysed and simply having a few days of R&R is the way the way to go. Andrew Ledwith finished along with Cragg. The remaining athletes, both based in Dublin, Sean Connelly and Mick Clohessy both ran good steady races. This will have been a good learning experience for both men who have each had superb years and were very deserving of their places on the team.