Germany made a brilliant start to the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Hyères on Sunday - as Konstanze Klosterhalfen led them to individual and team gold.
Klosterhalfen, 18, might not have been the name the runners would have worried about most with the presence of her fellow German Alina Reh, the European junior 3000m and 5000m champion, in the field.
But Klosterhalfen had a successful time in Eskilstuna in the summer, too, as she won bronze in the 1500m and now she moved up to the top of the podium.
She did so in a race where she made her move impeccably as she triumphed by four seconds in 13:12 from Great Britain’s Harriet Knowles-Jones with Reh in third (13:20).
And with Germany’s Sarah Kistner (13:35) sixth and Franziska Reng in 10th (13:40), they combined to give the nation the team prize and end the reign of Britain who had won this title every year since 2010.
Germany won with 20 points from Britain (40) and Denmark (62), who were led by Anna Emilie Moller (13:37) in eighth.
“I am very, very happy because it was so unexpected,” said Klosterhalfen. “I was not the favourite, I was hoping for a top 10 position and it is a big surprise.”
It was a fine start to the action in the south of France in mild conditions on this Hippodrome du Var, a racecourse where the runners started on cinder and moved onto grass and then into the pine forests on a track of a number of man-made climbs and other obstacles.
It meant athletes had to keep their wits about them all the time, even if the surface underfoot was not as muddy, let alone without snow and ice, as in previous years of this superb competition.
In Eskilstuna in July, Britain’s Bobby Clay won gold in the 1500m as Klosterhalfen finished third.
Clay made her mark from the start today along with teammate Amy Griffiths, who was second in the European juniors, as the leaders established a quick break in a race of one short loop and one long loop after the initial start loop.
Knowles-Jones quickly joined her teammate Clay in a quartet of Spain’s Celia Anton and Klosterhalfen - with Reh 10 metres behind.
As the German revealed afterwards, she had made a poor start and that cost her.
But it was Knowles-Jones who edged ahead, being first over the three tree trunks across the latter stage of the final loop and looking strong as the finish straight drew closer.
The Briton looked set for victory but then Klosterhalfen had so much in the tank and came gliding through with 100m left to ease in front.
As Klosterhalfen said: “It was a perfect race. Bobby made the pace, I just had to follow and the last 200m was perfect, so I could use my finishing speed.”
Knowles-Jones was equally delighted and said: “I was not expecting this. I tried to detach myself from the group late on but Klosterhalfen was too strong.”
Reh said: “My start was bad but I am really happy with the team gold.”