Fifty metres from the line he was waving his left hand, then his right, and then both arms were raised in the air. He was beaming with delight and who could blame him.
Pieter-Jan Hannes might not have been the name at the top of everyone’s list to win the under-23 men’s race at the SPAR European Cross County Championships Belgrade on Sunday but he came through in style to take gold.
“This race could have gone either way, I only started to realise what was going on as I crossed the finish. This is one the greatest wins of my career,” he said.
And as Bulgaria’s Mitko Tsenov won silver, the home nation found after Amela Terzic finished second found themselves on the podium as her teammate Nemanja Cerovac finished third.
“I can’t believe it!,” he exclaimed. “No one expected me but the crowd pushed me hard and gave me strength. I also have my mother here, so this is unbelievable.”
No wonder there were hugs and kisses all round for Cerovac who came through in the final stages of a race where for so long it was hard to predict who would win.
Before the start, the presence of Norway’s defending champion Henrik Ingebrigsten meant he was the man to beat.
But in his last under-23 race at these Championships, he could not stay with Hannes and a breakaway group over the final 3km and ended in 10th in 24:23.
Hannes took gold in 24:02 from Tsenov, five seconds behind him, with Cerovac third in 24:08.
Once more, the depth of British endurance running came to the fore as their men won the team event with 40 points from Ukraine with 72 and France with 78.
There was nothing to give in the opening stages as the leading group extended to more than 30.
But then the pace increased with and Hannes made his move.
His ability to triumph was shown in the summer when he won the 1500m gold at the European Under-23 Championships in Tampere and on Sunday in Belgrade, he displayed how well he can transfer his track form and speed to the longer distance on the terrain.
The grass hardly cut up though from the opening three races and once Hannes was gone he couldn’t be caught. Many must have been surprised by his endurance.
Tsenov came through well to take second before Cerovac’s late charge to give Serbia an unexpected bronze.
Caldwell’s fifth place in 24:13 led Britain to team gold as he was joined in the points-scoring places by Callum Hawkins, seventh in 24:18, Jonathan Hay, 12th in 24:24, and Griffths, 16th in 24:29.
By taking fourth in 24:10, Ivan Strebkov was at the forefront of Ukraine’s team silver. With Collenot-Spriet’s 14th in 24:24 made him the first Frenchman for a team who won the bronze.