Edinburgh University student Rhona Auckland created one of the biggest surprises of the year when she won the European Women’s Under-23 Cross Country title in Samokov, Bulgaria, yesterday.
Undaunted by the testing conditions of a hilly, snow-covered course which later became very muddy, the 21-year-old third-year medical sciences student from Banchory was content to stay back in the pack until a lap (1500m) to go of the 6,200m race.
That was a change from her stated intention before she left that she was determined to go with the pace and not leave anything “in the tank”.
But the tactic certainly paid off as she pulled away in the closing stages to beat the Bulgarian Mirchever Militsa by three seconds with Gulshat Fazlitdinova of Russia third, another three seconds back.
The next Brit was Alice Wright in ninth place, while last year’s junior champion Emilia Gorecka was back in 12th place.
“I knew my strength was on the endurance side of things and the course was challenging enough to hold back and work my way through and I’m glad I did that,” said Auckland.
“I didn’t think I’d come here challenging for gold – I was hoping to better last year (when she was seventh).”
Auckland also picked up a silver medal in the team event.
There was more gold in the senior women’s race won by Gemma Steel by the narrowest of margins from GB team-mate Kate Avery with Scotland’s Steph Twell, the team captain, seventh.
With Lily Partridge 11th, GB took the team gold as well and there was team gold in the men’s under-23 race where Scot Callum Hawkins (Kilbarchan) had high hopes of an individual medal but in the end faded to fifth, just three seconds behind team-mate Jonny Hay, though both had the consolation of team gold.
Central’s Andrew Butchart was 35th in his senior debut while Luke Caldwell was 40th.