This yearâ€™s European Junior Menâ€™s 6K Cross Country Championship in Belgrade was the most competitive one in years with over 115 athletes going to the start.
Indeed there were places on the circuit when the whole width of the track was full, which made it hard for athletes to move up through the field.
Clonmelâ€™s Sean Tobin ran a brilliant race. He was well positioned throughout the race and at halfway was in the low twenties but over the final quarter of the race he increased the pace to finish very strongly in 9th place, a brilliant top ten position, only 13 seconds off the bronze medal.
Right from the start the pace was lightning over the level route, more of a track race, with the current European Junior 5k and 10k Champion, Ali Kaya of Turkey, winning in a sprint finish. Sean couldnâ€™t compete in last yearâ€™s race due to illness but he ran very well this year when leading home the Irish team to 9th place overall, a big improvement on last yearâ€™s 18th place.
Speaking after the race Tobin spoke of his disappointment: â€œEverything has been focused on getting the best out of ourselves (the team) at these championships. At least I got to the line healthy this time but I am still very disappointed with ninth - I really wanted a medalâ€.
This was a tremendous achievement by Sean and everyone in the Clonmel club is very proud of his achievements while he himself always sets a high standard. Club chairman Frank Lynch said that everyone in the club were delighted with Seanâ€™s performance in such a competitive race and he did his club, county and country proud with this fantastic top ten performance.â€
While Sean may have been slightly disappointed with his performance, there was greater cause for concern with the amount of naturalised Africans now running for European countries. Three of the six titles were won by athletes of East African origin. Ali Kaya of Turkey, formerly Kenya, dominated the menâ€™s junior 6km race in 17:49 and he was joined at the head of the race by Belgiumâ€™s Isaac Kimeli, again formerly of Kenya, who won Silver. Hollandâ€™s Sifan Hassan, from Ethiopia, dominated the womenâ€™s U23 race, the senior menâ€™s race had Alemayehu Bezabeh of Spain and Polat Arikan of Turkey, essentially Ethiopia versus Kenya. In the last World Cross Country Championships which were dominated by the African countries, many European countries didnâ€™t send athletes due to such domination; will the same happen in the European equivalent?
This was one of the issues discussed at a seminar chaired by Seb Coe after these Championships.