Burkard helps Team Europe to a successful title defence in Stirling

Elena Burkard

Germany's Elena Burkard scored victory for Team Europe in the first race of the day at the Simplyhealth Great Stirling XCountry. Photo credit: Great Run / Steve Ashworth

In the first major international event of 2019, Team Europe celebrated victory at the Simplyhealth Great Stirling XCountry, a European Athletics Cross Country Permit event, as they successfully defended their title at a competition which has traditionally been held in Edinburgh.

Team Europe triumphed with 55 points from Great Britain & Northern Ireland with 84 and Team USA with 90. "We are so proud of all the team. We are happy to defend our title,” said Team Europe captain Adel Mechaal. 

Women’s 6km

With a sharp wind but no rain and not much mud underfoot, Germany’s Elena Burkard gave Team Europe a brilliant start. 

Having finished sixth at the SPAR Cross Country Championships in Tilburg, Burkard bided her time behind the woman who was one place behind her last month: Great Britain’s Charlotte Arter.

With Arter leading and looking strong, Burkard edged closer towards her as the bell approached and then immediately took over and was never challenged. 

The fourth lap saw Burkard break further away and she won in 20:01, a victory by five seconds from Arter with European teammate Anna Emilie Moller, Denmark's U23 champion from Tilburg, third in 20:11.

And with the first four athletes counting in the match in each event, Europe found themselves in front as Burkard’s German teammate Anna Gehring was sixth in 20:17 with Poland’s Anna Gosk in seventh in 20:19. Anne-Marie Blaney was the first US athlete home in 11th in 20:29.

Early stages of the women's 6km which was won by Germany's Elena Burkard. Photo credit: Great Run / Steve Ashworth
Early stages of the women's 6km which was won by Germany's Elena Burkard. Photo credit: Great Run / Steve Ashworth

Having been trailing at the end of the opening two laps, Team Europe now led the match with 17 points from Great Britain with 19 and the USA on 50 points.

Burkard was delighted with her win for the team and revealed she made her mark at the right time. “It just kind of happened so I thought I better go as I heard the British fans cheering loud,” she said of the moment she overtook Arter.

Now the German will head to training with a difference. “I am going to a cross country skiing camp,” said Burkard. “I am bad at it but I love it and it keeps my heart rate up. Running is my main thing but I do a lot of alternative training.” 

The race became a duel between Arter and Burkard after the Brit hit the front just after the completion of the second 1500m lap, establishing a 10-metre lead courtesy of a 4:51 lap after 5:10 for the first lap and 5:05 for the second lap.   

As she reached the bell in 15:06, Arter was just one second ahead of Burkard. On the hill which greeted the runners at the start of each lap, Burkard quickly moved alongside Arter for the final time and she was never overtaken.

Men’s 8km

Fresh from an outstanding fifth in Tilburg, Napoleon Solomon produced another superb run to take second and keep Team Europe in command. 

In a battling finish after a tough and dramatic race, Solomon did not have enough to go past US athlete Hillary Bor who won in 23:48, the exact same time as the Swede who was 15th in Edinburgh two years ago. 

Mechaal was third in 23:49 with reigning two-time winner Leonard Korir from the United States fourth also in the same time. 

The United States still won the team race with 16 points ahead of Europe with 20 points. Germany’s Samuel Fitwi was the third counter in seventh in 24:03, one place ahead of Aras Kaya from Turkey in 24:05. 

Team captain Adel Mechaal finished third in the men's 8km. Photo credit: Great Run / Steve Ashworth
Team captain Adel Mechaal finished third in the men's 8km. Photo credit: Great Run / Steve Ashworth

Europe also consolidated their position in the standings with a commanding 26 point lead over the hosts – 37 to 63 points.

After laps of 4:34, 4:26 and 4:26, Bor moved to the front on the fourth lap which was covered in 4:23 before temporarily squandering his lead after going off course on the first of the two shorter laps. 

Stopping, and recovering quickly, he was back among the leaders with this distraction taking nothing out of him. Bor hit the bell in 20:51 and it was a pack of five who were going to challenge for the honours, as Solomon, Mechaal, Korir and US captain and former three-time winner Garrett Heath primed themselves for glory. 

The pace quickened and as Bor went further ahead, Solomon went with him. The US athlete was looking behind all the time but the line came just at the right moment.

4x1500m mixed relay

After Spain won gold in the relay in Tilburg, three of the four runners from last month were back representing Team Europe in the last race of the match.

The glory went to Europe as they won the match but the victory in the last race went to the hosts, anchored by the athlete who could be the star of the Glasgow 2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships in Glasgow in March: Laura Muir.

Muir was on the last leg for the Brits and a day before she goes to South Africa for warm-weather training, she did not put a foot wrong to bring the British senior team home first in 17:36 from Europe’s senior team in 17:45 and the US senior in 18:01. 

The outcome meant Europe easily secured victory in the match while Muir showed the shape she was in ahead of Glasgow, looking in control and never troubled. She received the baton from Phil Sesemann to run a lap of 4:38, the same time as her teammate Alex Bell who set the Brits up with a brilliant second leg. 

Laura Muir anchored Great Britain to victory in the mixed 4x1500m relay. Photo credit: Great Run / Steve Ashworth
Laura Muir anchored Great Britain to victory in the mixed 4x1500m relay. Photo credit: Great Run / Steve Ashworth

With Pablo Sanchez-Valladares replacing Saul Ordonez from the quartet in Tilburg, Europe were always in a good position as he sent them on their way before Esther Guerrero, Victor Ruiz and Solange Pereira ran the following legs. 

But Bell had put Great Britain in front on the second leg which Sesemann maintained before handing on to Muir who was all alone for the whole lap. 

She said: “The team set it up and I just had to be strong on the last leg – well done for Europe for winning overall. People were shouting and I just love racing on home soil.”

As will be the case in Glasgow where the noise will be immense. But for now some important work ahead. “It will be nice to get a solid block of training in good weather,” said Muir.