Under-23 men - Safiulin leads a Russian cleansweep

Under-23 men - Safiulin leads a Russian cleansweep
Getty Images

Ilgizar Safiulin (gold), Igor Maksimov (silver)  and Vladimir Nikitin (bronze), formed an all Russian podium in the under-23 men's race.

The clock was turned back to the 2011 SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Velenje as Russia celebrated a clean-sweep in the men's under-23 race in Samokov.

Three years ago, Ilgizar Safiulin took gold and his fellow Russian Vladimir Nikitin won bronze in the junior race. On Sunday, they filled those same positions in this next age group up and this time they were joined by teammate Igor Maksimov who won silver.

In a race over 7.7km, with two short laps of 550m and six of 1100m, the Russians chose the bell to assert their authority after Britain's Callum Hawkins had led for most of the way.

With a brilliant injection of pace, the medals were all but decided with almost a lap left as the Russian trio just burst away with a break that could not be reduced.

It was then a case of who would take gold and it was Safiulin who kept his balance the best to have more power and endurance to edge in front and then move ahead to win by two seconds in 25:31 from Maksimov with Nikitin third in 25:37.

"I was calm and confident and it helped me," said Safiulin. "I am so happy that Russia won gold, silver and bronze. We haven't any special team tactics - everybody runs for his own success.

"The course was good but the weather was a little bit cold but not as it was in Slovenia several years ago when I won the junior championships in minus-10 Celsius.”

Maksimov said: "It was a very tough competition and that is why I am satisfied with second.”

With Mikhail Strelkov tenth in 26:03, Russia were the overwhelming team champions with 16 points from Great Britain with 31 and Sweden with 62.

Hawkins had arrived in Samokov in good shape after winning the senior race at the British trials and along with the trio of Russians, he led the pack of five which also included Belgium's Isaac Kimeli.

For all his good work, Hawkins ended with the team silver after finishing fifth in 25:49, with his British teammate Jonathan Hay a place above him in 25:46.

Bulgaria’s Mikto Tsenov, who second last year, was 23rd this time and said: "I am so disappointed with my performance. I expected more but the knee injury didn't allow me to give my best. Last week I did only two training sessions because of that injury. It was not my day today.”