Jonathan Davies joined elite company today when he won gold in Hyères – the first British man since Mo Farah to take an individual title at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships.
Davies used his track speed to power away to victory in the home straight and win by three seconds in 23:32 from Spain’s Carlos Mayo, with Germany’s Amanal Petros, running in his first major championship, in third in 23:39.
Mayo, who was second in the junior race in Samokov last year, could also celebrate gold as Spain took the team title with 39 points from Great Britain (41) and France (59).
It was back in 2006 in San Giorgio su Legnano that Farah, now the multiple Olympic, world and European champion, became the last British man to stand at the top of the podium after an individual glory when he won the senior race.
At 21, Davies made sure he had enough reserves for a race where it could not have been more wide open heading into the final lap with more than 20 runners in a group.
"I tried to be patient and I made my move in the woods. I was hoping for the victory but you never know how things turn out," said Davies, who had been the first under-23 home in the British trials last month.
"I came in thinking I had a chance of winning but you never quite believe it.
"There was a point where I felt my concentration go for a little bit, but I just thought ‘No, you keep back in, stay in contention and you’ve got a good chance’. When I got to the last lap I thought I have a very good chance of winning this."
The woods was the only time the race went into that punishing loop - they had run four shorter loops first - and when the field dispersed, it was a group of four that looked set for the medals.
They were led by Petros, from Mayo and Davies and included Isaac Kimeli. The Belgian has had a fine winter but he then dropped back dramatically and finished 38th in 23:41.
Mayo has made the step up well since his junior success and he looked a big threat while Petros remained strong in what was proving quite a major championship debut.
But Davies had too much for the rest though in the final straight and he was never going to be caught.
Silver completed a great year for Mayo, who also won bronze in the 5000m at the European Athletics U23 Championships in Tallinn in July.
He said: "After second last year, now that is a new silver medal here...I am very happy. When the bell rang I moved ahead, then I tried to resist until the end. But it was very tough in the last lap.”
Petros said: "I am very happy. It was my very first international competition, my first major championship. I tried my luck, and everything went well.”
In the team competition, Mayo combined with fellow Spaniard Nassim Hassaous (23:47) in seventh, Jaime Escriche (23:50) in ninth and Houssane Eddine Benabbou (24:06) in 21st for victory.