Fourth in Europe for McCormack as Griggs leads Ireland to Team Gold

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It was another day to remember for Irish athletics at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Brussels today (Dec 10th). Fionnuala McCormack (Kilcoole AC) produced one of the all-time great Irish performances to finish fourth in the senior women’s race, following up on the success of the U20 men’s team who claimed gold earlier in the day thanks to a superb run from Nick Griggs (Candour Track Club) who also picked up the individual bronze medal.

Competing at her 18th European Cross Country Championships, the context of McCormack’s result was made all the more impressive in that only last weekend she secured the qualifying time for her fifth Olympics at the Valencia Marathon, less than six months after giving birth to her third child.

Speaking after the race, McCormack, who finished in fourth place for the fifth time at these championships said: “It’s hard to sum it up. It’s never easy to come fourth and I’ve done it so many times at this stage and I really wanted to be on that podium again so I’m going to have to come back again now”.

McCormack continued: “You want to get on the podium so it’s a bit disappointing, but it was great to be in contention and to be chasing down the medals. The support out there was unbelievable, and it was a great race to be a part of. I had in my mind that I really wanted to do this, and my preparations were the same as two years ago so I was happy with my recovery and I think the race went pretty well”.

The senior women’s medals went the way of Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdl (NOR) 33:40, Nadia Battocletti (ITA) 34:25, and Abbie Donnelly (GBR) 34:42, with McCormack crossing the finish 18 seconds behind the leading trio over the new 9,000m distance.

There was also a huge performance from the senior team in the men’s race with national champion Cormac Dalton (Mullingar Harriers) leading them home with an eighth place finish. The team was unlucky not to medal and had to settle for fourth overall thanks to top-22 placings from Keelan Kilrehill (Mov Valley AC) 17th, Hugh Armstrong (Ballina AC) 20th, and Brian Fay (Raheny Shamrock) 22nd.

The day started with a bang for Ireland with a superb team performance in the men’s U20 race seeing five Irish athletes inside the top 30 places as they raced away to gold thanks to their first three scorers all securing top ten finishes including Niall Murphy in ninth and Jonas Stafford tenth.

The team was spearheaded by the bronze-medal-winning run from Nick Griggs with Seamus Robinson (City of Derry Spartans AC), Shane Brosnan (An Riocht), and Harry Colbert (Waterford AC) all contributing to the team as they improved on last year’s silver medal.

Speaking after the race, Nick Griggs said: “It was a pretty special one. It was a really tough battle out there with the leaders up front and I wanted to win, but I can’t complain with bronze in those tough conditions given what happened at nationals. To lead this team home to a gold is so special after the last two silvers so we’re all delighted”.

The U20 gold and silver individual medals came down to a sprint finish with Axel Vang Christensen (DEN) outsprinting Niels Laros (NED) to cross the 5,000m route in a winning time of 16:09, with Griggs following them home in 16:24.

The women’s U20 team finished fifth overall with standout performances Anna Gardiner (East Down AC) 7th and Kirsty Maher (Moy Valley) 12th, while the U23 teams finished eleventh (women) and tenth (men) respectively with a brilliant display of cross country running from national champion Danielle Donegan (Tullamore Harriers) who worked her way through the field to secure an eighth place finish.

Today’s performances continue a remarkably consistent medal-winning-run for Irish athletes at European Cross Country Championships. Ireland has won 14 medals over the last 4 editions of these championships; a stat made all the more impressive when set against the 13 medals won in the previous 25 editions.  

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