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Great Britain retain mixed relay title thanks to third leg heroics from Bell

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  • Great Britain retain mixed relay title thanks to third leg heroics from Bell

Great Britain retained their mixed relay title at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships and, with the greatest respect to the three other members of their winning quartet who certainly contributed significantly, most of the plaudits have to go to their third leg runner Alex Bell.

Bell, an Olympic Games 800m finallist this summer, started her leg 12 seconds down on the lead and handed over to the British anchor runner Ben West four seconds in front of her nearest rivals.

West, making his British debut at any level, then attacked hard over the first half of the final leg over approximately 1600m to dent the hopes that anybody else might have had of wrestling the crown from Britain's grasp and despite visibly tiring over the final 300 metres, he had enough strength to maintain the lead all the way to the line.

The race started with Hungary’s Lili Anna Toth flying into the front from the gun and the 2017 SPAR European Cross Country Championships U20 silver medallist had a 20-metre lead halfway through the first lap.

However, in the final third of the race, the chasing pack of seven teams started to close and with 200 metres remaining Ireland’s Ciara Mageean and Switzerland’s Lore Hoffmann overtook the tiring Toth.

Luke McCann took over from Mageean and then ran a superb circuit of the Sport Ireland Campus course, looking wonderfully relaxed for much of his stint and clocking 4:15 for the 1500m lap, to give Ireland a three-second lead at the halfway point in the race with Switzerland and France following him home after two legs.

However, the third lap belonged to Bell. The Great Britain team captain took over in sixth place, after solid but unspectacular opening legs from Hannah Nuttall and Luke Duffy, and then started almost immedaitely to gain ground on the women in front of her.

Ireland’s Siofra Cleirigh Buttner at one point had a five-second advantage at the front of the race approximately halfway round the third leg but the fourth-place finisher in the 2021 European Athletics Indoor Championships 800m clearly started too fast and unravelled badly in the final few hundred metres.

Bell – the one surviving member of Great Britain’s victorious quartet in 2019 when she also ran the third leg – and Belgium’s Vanessa Scaunet overhauled Cleirigh Buttner 300 metres from the changeover before the Briton, in turn, started to move away from Scaunet and she handed over to Ben West with a four-second advantage.

It was left to West to bring Great Britain home and he did so with aplomb despite his lack of international experience, crossing the line in 18:01 to huge applause from a sizable contingent of British fans.

"I've not had a stage and heard an audience like that in so long, it was unbelievable," said Bell.

West added: "I was so nervous when Alex got in the lead, I thought 'I´ve got to hold it now,' so I took off and I was knackered by 400 metres in, I was like 'Oh Dear, they are going to come back for me' but I'm happy to take the win."

Behind West in the finishing straight, there was a tremendous three way battle between France, Belgium and Ireland for the other medals.

France's Alexis Meillet had the better sprint finish – as befits a man with a 3:34.23 1500m best – to clinch the silver medal for Les Bleus in 18:05 with Belgium’s Stijn Baeten finishing third one second behind and Ireland’s Andrew Coscoran just missing out on the medals in fourth despite being given the same time of 18:06 as Belgium.

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