Athletics News

FitzGerald and Bailey finish top Europeans in Belgrade

FitzGerald and Bailey finish top Europeans in Belgrade

Brits Innes FitzGerald and Jess Bailey take top 20 places in the under-20 women’s race at the World Cross as Marta Alemayo, just 15, wins gold for Ethiopia

Innes FitzGerald arrived at her first World Cross Country Championships eager to test herself for the first time against east Africa’s finest teenage runners. In brutal conditions the 17-year-old Brit was found wanting as she struggled to keep up with the leaders and faded to 17th, just ahead of team-mate Jess Bailey. She knows what she has to do now, though, if she wants to compete with the best at the World Under-20 Championships in Peru this summer.

Those potential rivals on the track in a few months’ time could include Marta Alemayo of Ethiopia who, remarkably, is still only 15. In Belgrade on Saturday (March 30) she defied those tender years by leading an Ethiopian sweep of the medals ahead of Asayech Ayichew and Robe Dida. It was one of the most amazing stories of an action-packed day in the Park of Friendship.

U20 women’s start (Getty)

FitzGerald missed last year’s World Cross in Australia because the ec0-friendly athlete felt she could not justify the long haul flight from the UK to get there. This winter she has never seemed quite sure whether she would tackle this year’s event in the Serbian capital, but ultimately she flew to the event rather than endure a near-impossible journey by train. “The main thing is that I got here,” she said, clearly relishing her first global event.

She lined up in the first race of the day wearing sunglasses, with Paula Radcliffe, a former world junior and senior world cross-country champion, symbolically sitting only a few metres away commentating with Tim Hutchings, another world cross-country medallist, on the races. From the start she committed herself, trying to stay with a large group of Ethiopians, Kenyans and Ugandans. But gradually she fell off the back of the pack and began to struggle in the heat.

For much of the race FitzGerald remained the leading non-African, but Ellie Shea and Allie Zealand of the United States passed her in the closing stages to finish 15th and 16th respectively.

Marta Alemayo leads (Getty)

Enjoying the race of her life, Bailey had a terrific second half of the race to end up hot on FitzGerald’s heels – just two seconds behind her team-mate in 18th as the duo finished the first Europeans home.

Eliza Nicholson in 25th and Natasha Phillips in 30th followed as the British team finished a gallant fifth….

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