Solange Pereira took the very last gold medal of the Tilburg 2018 SPAR European Cross Country Championships when she ran an outstanding last leg in the mixed relay at the Beekse Bergen Safari park to clinch the title for Spain, their first and only victory of the day.
The 29-year-old from town of Cangas – which nestles on the Atlantic coast in the north western province of Galicia just a few kilometres from the Portuguese border, where she was born – took over a few metres behind her French rival Johanna Geyer-Carles but accelerated just over halfway round her 1600m anchor leg on the muddy course to come home two seconds clear of Les Bleus.
"I had a lot of nerves and I was aware of the great responsibility on my shoulders (when she took over from Spain’s third leg runner Victor Ruiz), reflected Pereira in an interview with the Spanish running magazine Corricolari this week.
“My teammates had done a great race and I had to finish things off. We were in a position for a place on the podium and had the the possibility of fighting for the gold. Bad race management, a fall or any other problem would mean all my teammates' work had been for nothing.”
“After six races, the course was treacherous, and I was constantly looking at the ground to check my steps and avoid falling.
“Once I received the wristband, I was clear about what had to be done, I knew the French athlete (Geyer-Carles) and I knew that if I stayed with her I could fight for the gold medal in the sprint for the line.
“I also knew that the athletes coming from behind could get very close and give us a scare, so as soon as we left the area where there were the tree trunks, I looked back and saw that the English athlete (Jessica Judd, who was to eventually finish fourth) was coming, that's when I decided to push because I preferred to ensure that we got at least a silver medal.
“If the French athlete had not fallen behind a few metres with respect to me, I probably would have put the brakes on, but when I saw her fall back a few metres I knew that the possibility of her getting back in front was going to be much more difficult because the last part of the circuit was very technical and close to the trees. ” she added, explaining her tactics and her decisive final surge.
“It was possibly the best day of my life as an athlete. Coming first in a European championships is something I will never forget, I think it will be engraved on my mind forever. The only thing that comes close is when I achieved my 1500m personal best at the Rabat Diamond League (4;06.39 in 2017).
Pereira’s astute tactics earned Spain not only a set of gold medals and a place on top of the podium in the Dutch city but also a trip to the Simplyhealth Great Stirling Cross Country in Stirling on 12 January.
The quartet of Saul Ordonez, Esther Guerrero, Ruiz and Pereira will be reunited but rather than wearing he familiar red-and-yellow apparel of Spain, they will don the uniform of Team Europe in a 4x1000m mixed relay against hosts Great Britain and also the USA at the European Athletics Cross Country Permit Meeting.
The slightly shorter distance in Stirling, compared to the 1600m leg she ran in Tilburg, may be to Pereira's disadvantage but she is determined to enjoy the experience.
Looking further ahead, the psychology student – who is also currently taking English classes, which might prove useful in Stirling – is looking to return to Scotland in a couple of months for the Glasgow 2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships.
She ran the 1500m at Belgrade 2017 but didn’t qualify from her heat so her target this time is clear: to make the final.
Pereira suffered the same fate in Berlin 2018 1500m, although she did make the final of the same event in Amsterdam two years earlier, but bounced back from that disappointment two weeks later to win the iberoAmerican 1500m title in Peru at the end of the summer.
Now Pereira has had another taste of winning a top-class competition, who would bet against her making another big step forward in Glasgow?