ZÜRICH (12-Aug) -- With a 66-second closing lap, 40 year-old Jo Pavey of Great Britain won the women's 10,000m title at the 21st European Championships here tonight becoming the oldest-ever women's champion --in any discipline-- at these championships. It mattered not that Pavey, a four-time Olympian and mother of two, clocked the slowest winning time in the history of the meet. Over a career which has spanned more than two decades, she had finally won her first European title.
"I just can't believe I've come away with a gold at this age," Pavey told a small group of reporters prior to her press conference at the famed Letzigrund stadium. "I think it's taken me a long time to learn the things I've had to learn about running. I think just being more relaxed and being a busy mum has just done me a lot of good, really."
Making Pavey's achievement even more remarkable is that she also competed in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, winning the bronze medal at 5000m just ten days ago. She now joins distinguished British compatriots Paula Radcliffe and Yvonne Murray who also won Commonwealth Games and European Championships distance medals in the same year.
Pavey certainly ran more than 10,000 meters in tonight's race. With such a slow pace --there were many 80-second laps-- the women were bunched up and many got badly spiked, including Germany's Sabrina Mockenhaupt who was bleeding badly from both legs after the race.
"It was terrible," Mockenhaupt, who finished sixth, told Race Results Weekly.
Pavey sensed impending trouble, so she decided to run wide to avoid being tripped.
"This was tough," Pavey explained. "I always find 10,000 on the track quite tough, and I only realized that I was running wide a lot and I bet people are criticizing; I'm running so wide. But, I seemed to get stuck in a rut every time I moved in I seemed to get tripped."
Keeping out of trouble, Pavey let the the slow laps go by peacefully. Poland's Karolina Jarzynska was the nominal leader at 5000m (16:26.72), but most of the pack was bunched together, and the race lacked leadership. Pavey tried to stay patient and kept running wide.
"There were so many runners and it seemed quite dangerous," she said. "I was just going to end up falling on the floor."
Two-time TCS New York City Marathon champion Jelena Prokopcuka took up the lead at 7200 meters, but she was running 78-second laps. Not much happened until 8800 meters when Portugal's Sara Moreira went to the lead, followed quickly by France's Clémence Calvin and Laila Traby, and Moreira's teammate, the defending champion Ana Dulce Félix. With less than two laps to go, Calvin tried to run away with the race, and Pavey gave chase, despite running on wobbly legs.
"To be honest, I didn't necessarily feel that confident; it felt a long way," Pavey told reporters. "During the late stages of the race I thinking I don't feel very good here. I had to try to remember to myself you do feel like this at the end of a 10-K. Whatever the pace, it's quite a long way."
Calvin managed to get three steps on Pavey, but she bravely fought back, secured the lead, and held off Calvin in the final 200 meters.
"I thought, I've just got to go for it and give it all I've got," Pavey recalled.
Pavey, who has a 4:01.79 1500m personal best, showed some of her old speed and crossed the finish line in 32:22.39. Calvin, who earlier this year had won the European Cup 10,000m, held on for second in 32:23.58. Traby, a 35 year-old former Moroccan, ran a personal best 32:26.03 to claim third.
Pavey now must recover quickly and get ready for the 5000m. Thankfully, the preliminary round was eliminated, and she'll only have to race the final which is scheduled for Saturday night. She said she's ready for the quick turnaround.
"I know my legs are going to be sore, but I doubled at the Olympics and the World Champs and stuff before, so I know what that's like. I know that, like, tomorrow I'll probably hardly going to walk."
PHOTO: Great Britain's Jo Pavey celebrates after winning the 10,000m title at the 2014 European Championships in Zürich (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)