Mo Farah had to battle to win back his European 10,000m title as his fellow Briton Andy Vernon snatched a fine silver.
Farah, ill or injured for much of the summer, came good in his second track race of the season to match his team-mate Jo Pavey’s distance gold.
In a slow race a large lead group went through halfway in 14 minutes nine seconds, and with four laps to go seven athletes were in theoretical contention.
Farah went to the front with 600m to go and opened out as always at the bell, but only in the final 60m did he get rid of Turkey’s Ali Kaya before Vernon’s late surge.
The winning time of 28 minutes 8.12 seconds was less relevant than the salvaging of something from a crisis-ridden season.
Farah now has five European golds, one more than Colin Jackson and Steve Backley, and nine medals in major championships – a tally that out-strips Daley Thompson, Jonathan Edwards and Linford Christie.
The 31-year-old double world and Olympic champion will have the chance to win another gold in the 5,000m on Sunday.
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Jo Pavey, a 40-year-old mother of two, won a brilliant 10,000m gold to get Britain’s European Championships off to a remarkable start.
Pavey, who only gave birth to her daughter Emily 11 months ago, ran the perfect tactical race to match the gold won by her old friend Paula Radcliffe in Munich 12 years ago.
When France’s Clemence Calvin – 16 years her junior and almost 20 seconds faster this season – went to the front with two laps to go Pavey tucked in behind.
Then, at the bell, the Briton surged into the lead, held Calvin at bay on the back straight and kicked hard again as she came off the top bend to race to her first ever major title.
She becomes the oldest female gold medallist in the championships’ history, and having won Commonwealth 5,000m bronze 10 days ago seals a wonderful summer at an age when most athletes are long retired.
Pavey told BBC Sport: “I just can’t believe it. I was finding it quite a long way – I was thinking, is this the right event?
“I’m really thrilled. I tried to do a controlled last lap, but when I got to the home straight I thought, just give it all you’ve got, so you don’t regret anything.”
The time – 32 minutes 22.39 seconds was irrelevant, Calvin hanging on for silver and her compatriot Laila Traby taking bronze.
British team captain Goldie Sayers had given a speech on the eve of the championships urging her team-mates a simple question: “How would you perform if this was the last time you would ever compete?”
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Marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe will make her comeback at the Worcester City 10k in September.
The 40-year-old has not run competitively since undergoing surgery on a foot following the Vienna half marathon in Austria in 2012.
Radcliffe is planning to finish her career at next year’s London Marathon and will use the Worcester event to ease herself back into racing.
“It will give me a chance to see how my fitness is developing,” she said.