THREE North East athletes helped Great Britain continue their dominance of the European Cross Country Championships in Belgrade yesterday.
The GB squad topped the medals table with five golds, one silver and three bronzes in the Serbia capital.
Birtley Harrier Lydia Turner, one of the youngest runners in the junior under-20 race at 16 years, finished a fine 13th and fifth team counter in the race won by her British clubmate Emelia Gorecka.
In the under-23 race, Shildon’s American University-based Kate Avery was just outside the medals in fourth and Morpeth’s Olympic 1500m finalist Laura Weightman finished eighth.
Charlotte Purdue was the highest GB individual, taking the bronze medal.
Gemma Steel took silver in the senior women’s race and the British team scooped team gold.
Steel held off Portugal’s Dulce Felix and Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton to clinch second place in the senior women’s race over eight kilometres behind France’s Sophie Duarte.
The 28-year-old was also able to celebrate gold in the team competition, along with Julia Bleasdale (seventh), Lauren Howarth (11th), Steph Twell (15th), Katie Brough (27th) and Lauren Deadman (43rd).
Steel said: “I was chuffed with beating Dulce in a sprint finish.
“It was nice to beat Fionnuala, who has been a big rival over the years. It’s just a shame I got a bit boxed in at the start, but I couldn’t do anything about that as I set off as fast as I could.
“It would have been nice to win today, but I couldn’t really do anything once she (Duarte) opened the gap up.”
In the senior men’s race, Andy Vernon snatched a bronze medal in a thrilling finish, edging out Belgium’s Jeroen D’Hoedt by less than a second over 10km.
His performance helped the men’s team also win bronze.
Vernon said: “The Belgian came past me quite quickly with about 150m but I sprinted as hard as I could and just got there.”
British Athletics performance Director Neil Black said: “There were some incredible performances today.
“Team medals in lots of different categories as well as outstanding individual performances – Emelia Gorecka winning in her last year as an under 20 and Andy Vernon storming down the home straight to a photo finish and getting third place.
“There were absolutely brilliant performances all round.
“Cross country is re-establishing itself as the background to endurance running.
“We are looking forward now to converting cross country to the track.
“We are really putting a huge effort into that conversion.”
H The low-key charity Sunderland Strollers Doorstep Marathon from Seaburn was won by Stroller Rachel Ball in a course record of 3hrs 29min 21sec.
She was followed by Kevin O’Neil in 3:36:00. Phil Watson, who was completing his 48th marathon, was fourth in 3:43:10.
In the half-marathon, Michael Edwards was first home in 1:49:00, with Brian Carroll second.
The Strollers have thanked ICE sportswear for supplying the race T-shirts and the Marriott for providing changing facilities and bacon sandwiches.
As usual, the Chemo therapy unit at Sunderland Royal Hospital benefited from the day, with more than £500 being donated to them.