Tuesday, 7 July 2009

2009 Saucony National XC Championships- Athlete feature: Junior bow for tenacious Twell (written for the English XC Association 02/09).

This month’s Saucony English National cross-country Championships will be extra special for the reigning junior women’s champion, as the event - which this year takes place in London’s Parliament Hill fields’ - represents the final junior competition in the glittering career of the golden girl of British athletics; Steph Twell; writes Nicola Bamford.

The nineteen year-old Aldershot, Farnham and District runner majestically captured the 2008 junior crown and is once again the overwhelming favourite to take victory this month.

Already showing scintillating form into the New Year with victory in her first official race as a senior athlete at the McCain UK Cross Challenge in Antrim, Twell then a finished a superb fourth in the high-calibre BUPA Great Edinburgh International XC, comfortably took the Southern under20 title and then placed runner-up in the Cinque Mulini IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting in Italy.

Despite however, having a catalogue of impressive senior domestic and international displays to her name, Twell still speaks enthusiastically about her final junior challenge; “I’m really looking forward to it – it’s not just about retaining my title, it’s also about our team performance. I feel like I’ve made a good impression on the junior scene so I hope to do the best I can.”

The Mick Woods-coached World junior 1500m champion and Olympic semi-finalist has been a regular fixture in the competition calendars’ prime event of the winter season; placing third as an under15 in 2003, winning the same age category the following year, under17 runner-up in 2005 and taking the junior title at aged 18 in 2008.

“My favourite National memory would be of the Leeds course in 2004, as it was there that I won my first title,” revealed the three-time junior European cross-country champion. “It was a course that got the best out of me, but Parliament Hill is probably my favourite. Running the National has been part of my development pathway from a young age – I get excited to train for it.”

On the subject of her favourite course – the scene for this years’ event – the European Athletics Rising Star of 2008 explains; “I love running there; it’s not too far from home and it’s a true cross-country course – I have a fondness of hills and to have a significant cross-country race in the middle of London is great. It’s pure cross-country; an undulating course at a big, fantastic event – it’s been a fundamental pathway for me.”

Upon leaving the age-group scene which have treated her so well, the St Mary’s University strength and conditioning student reminisces; “The junior ranks were a great stepping stone to where I am now; it’ll be so special to leave and to also know I’m getting older. I won’t be emotional, though as I’ve already made that transition but officially stepping up to the senior ranks is exciting. Hopefully all will go well and I’m excited to run very fast on the track this summer and get physically and mentally stronger –age doesn’t come into it.”

Evidently positively braced for a bright future, Twell is mature, confident and determined beyond her years. The Nike-sponsored athlete who is also supported by the UK Athletics lottery funding ‘development’ plan, wears her London 2012 pin-badge by day and even in bed at night and is surely set to not only create fireworks in her final junior race later this month, but also on the global athletics scene for many years to come.

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