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Ozbilen to the fore in Samorin

kigen kaan ozbilen - samorin

Slovakia – Turkey won individual gold for the fourth year in a row as Kaan Kigen Ozbilen seized his chance to triumph in the most dramatic of men’s senior races at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Samorin.

Kaan Kigen Ozbilen seizes Samorin Men’s title

It is also the fourth different Turkish champion in succession as Ozbilen followed the lead of Polat Kemboi Arikan (2014), Ali Kaya (2015) and Aras Kaya (2016) and concluded a great day for Turkey in the individual senior events after Yasemin Can had won the women’s title.

Ozbilen won in 29:45 from Spain’s Adel Mechaal in 29:54 and Great Britain’s Andrew Butchart, third in 30.00. And that trio spearheaded their nation to team glory, too, as their countries finished in the same places on the podium with Turkey scoring 17 points from Spain (20) and Great Britain (35).

The 31-year-old was a team medallist twelve months ago in Chia when he was 10th this time took his chance in a race which eventually became a duel between himself and Mechaal over the last two laps.

But what drama there was from the start as early on, with Aras Kaya in third, the defending champion went flying on a difficult turn. It looked as though he might have been caught from a spike behind him but he picked himself up immediately, though his chances of retaining his title were gone.

All credit to Kaya as he made his way back through the field and finished in seventh in 30:14 as Turkey’s second runner home. It was such a strong Turkish line up with all the past champions there, as Arikan was ninth in 30:17 as their third scorer while Ali Kaya was 21st in 30:47.

When Kaya fell, Great Britain’s Dewi Griffiths was leading but his race ended in disappointment as he later pulled up with what looked like a hamstring injury. Having slipped back to third with more than a half of the race to go, Griffiths put his hand on his right thigh but was then forced to stop.

Teammate Butchart was out in front but then Mechaal took over before Ozbilen, who was some way off the pace when Griffiths pulled out, began to make his presence felt. Just before the bell, Ozbilen – who is more accustomed to racing in the marathon – moved in front and gradually stretched away on that final lap to break Mechaal and secure a win of nine seconds.

“I was injured when I was 10th last year and I am so happy I could make it up this time,” said Ozbilen. “It was a tough competition and the cold weather made the run much harder. I loved the course, it was special and I did not mind the frozen water jumps as they were not too wide.”

Mechaal, who won a bronze medal two years ago, deemed himself “satisfied” with his performance today. “The track is spectacular here, I felt very strong and happy. I enjoyed the race, I was watching my rivals very closely and when one runner went down, I saw some of them looked tired and took my chance. I worked hard to finish and get second – I am very satisfied with my silver.”

Butchart was fourth in Chia last year but did win team gold, though he will long cherish this medal, the first major senior individual honour of his career – although he was hoping for me.

“It is a tough track but I loved it,” said Butchart. “I don’t mind cold or windy, I even like it. The course is very beautiful. I am a very satisfied with my bronze medal because it is my first medal so I am enjoying the moment. Of course I wanted to win but it was not meant to be today.”

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