Regardless of the terrain or distance, Yasemin Can has been a cut above the opposition at continental level over the last two season but the reigning two-time SPAR European cross country champion had to work hard to hold off Great Britain’s Emelia Gorecka to claim victory for Team Europe in the senior women’s 6km at the Great Edinburgh XCountry, a European Athletics Cross Country Permit Meeting, on Saturday.
Team Europe claimed the overall title with some ease, totalling a score of 137 points across the four events ahead of Great Britain (182) and the United States (190).
Can ran away with proceedings at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Samorin last month and the Turkish athlete looked on course to deliver another trademark runaway victory, opening up a four second lead after the second of four laps of 1500m. But while the underfoot conditions in Samorin were firm and fast - and to the liking of Can, who is the reigning European 5000m and 10,000m champion - a more traditional cross country test was on offer at Holyrood Park in Edinburgh.
“The course today was very hard for me. There was a lot of mud and a bit of wind and I was struggling too much,” said Can, who won this race by 21 seconds in 2017. “It was much harder; it was not like last year.”
After covering the first three laps in 5:12, 5:15 and 5:16, Can’s advantage remained at four seconds heading into the final circuit with Gorecka and Molly Seidel from the United States in pursuit. Running with a grimace etched across her face, Gorecka cut back on Can’s lead in the final 1500 metres and was almost on level terms with the long-time leader heading over the brook on the highest part of the course.
But on the downhill section towards the finish, Can still had just enough of an advantage - and just enough in the legs - to hold off a spirited challenge from Gorecka, who is returning to some excellent shape after a succession of injuries in recent years. Can crossed the finish-line in 20:58 with Gorecka only ceding two seconds on the victor. Seidel was third in 21:04.
Team Europe were victorious individually courtesy of Can and they packed well with four finishers in the first seven. Germany’s Elena Burkard was fourth in 21:13, one place ahead of Spain’s Nuria Lugueros (21:19) with Romania’s Roxana Barca seventh in 21:31. Last year’s runner-up Fionnuala McCormack from Ireland had to settle for eleventh today in 21:42.
Korir outsprints Ozbilen to repeat in the men’s senior race
Kaan Kigen Ozbilen maintained Turkey’s fine record at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Samorin last month by winning gold last month and he led Team Europe to victory in the senior men’s race ahead of the United States and Great Britain.
Ozbilen made most of the running from the gun and whittled the group down to a pack of four - including three runners from Team Europe - with one lap to go in the 8km event which closed the afternoon’s programme.
But in a virtual repeat of last year’s race against Great Britain’s Callum Hawkins, Leonard Korir from the United States came through for victory in the final 500m, winning the individual plaudits in 24:32 by three seconds from Ozbilen with Aras Kaya, who preceded Ozbilen as the European cross country champion, third in 24:39 with Belgium’s Soufiane Bouchikhi fourth in the same time.
Ozbilen narrowly missed out on the individual honours but with three finishers in the top four, Team Europe claimed the team title with 47 points from the United States (50) and Great Britain (74), adding to their unassailable lead in the overall contest: Team Europe (137), Great Britain (182) and United States (190).