Gemma Steel finally got her hands on individual gold at the European Cross County Championships as she pipped teammate Kate Avery in a frosty Samokov.
Steel has twice finished on the top spot of the podium as part of the senior gold medal winning teams in 2011 and 2013 but never alone, with a bronze coming in Velenje three years ago and silver 12 months ago in Belgrade.
But she put that stat to bed in Bulgaria after an impressive race which saw Steph Twell, Avery and herself form part of the leading pack for the majority of the race.
The latter two would pull away by themselves in the closing stages with Steel winning the sprint finish as both runners were given the same time of 28.27 minutes.
“I can’t believe it,” said Steel, who also picked up team gold along with the rest of the senior women. “I didn’t expect it to be a domestic battle in the end, but I think we helped each other along.
"My legs felt weak at the end and thought the altitude was kicking in, so I just needed to find that extra strength somewhere at the end.
“I thought ‘is she going to give in’ but she (Kate Avery) was really strong and I was feeling a bit weak to be honest.
“She had really good posture and I knew she wasn’t going to give it up without a fight, so I was thinking not silver again. Gold was the one I wanted and it’s great to have won it.”
As was the case last year, Great Britain and Northern Ireland once again topped the medal table, claiming nine medals in total to equal the haul managed in 2013.
The team’s other individual gold went the way of Rhona Auckland in the Under-23 race, who took the lead with one lap remaining and extended her lead ever further by the time she came into the finishing straight.
Her finish coupled with the performances of the rest of the Under-23 squad, including a ninth-place finish for Alice Wright and 12th for Emelia Gorecka, also saw the team take home overall silver.
“I’m absolutely delighted – I knew my strength was in the endurance side of things as I haven’t got the fastest start,” said Auckland. “I think the course was challenging enough to hold back and work my way through and I’m glad I did that.
“I didn’t think I would come here and challenge for the gold. I was hoping to better on last year, which was seventh and I knew Emelia (Gorecka) would be strong. I just tried to stick with her and run a race like she does – I was pleased to be able to do that.”
Elsewhere the second team gold was won by the women’s junior squad, helped in no small part by silver and bronze for Jessica Judd and Lydia Turner respectively.
There was also a silver medal for the men’s Under-23 side while in the men’s senior race, Ross Millington came home fifth – the same place achieved by the Great Britain men’s senior team.
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