WRITTEN FOR ATHLETICS WEEKLY MAGAZINE - 19/11/10
Liverpool will once again play host to the nation’s finest mud-larks as athletes from across the UK descend on Sefton Park, eager to gain selection to the British squad for the forthcoming European cross-country championships, writes Nicola Bamford.
As the official trial race for the continental championships in Albufeira, Portugal on December 12th, the first leg of the 2010/11 McCain Cross Challenge promises to produce a catalogue of thrilling battles as British runners tough it out to assert their authority and book their plane tickets to Europe’s biggest pre-Christmas competition on the international calendar.
Back on the racing scene after almost two years on the injury sidelines, 2009 national cross-country champion Frank Tickner could well be the surprise package of this race.
Although he is lacking in consistent competition experience since finishing a disappointing 74th in the World cross-country championships last March, the 27-year-old Wells City Harrier is in strong shape, clocking the second-fastest time at the cross-country relays in Mansfield three weeks ago and is looking close to the form which saw him place tenth in the 2008 continental edition.
Mark Draper and Scott Overall could be his closest challengers following their first and third-fastest legs in the relay.
Anchoring Bedford to glory, 26-year-old Draper looks set to improve on his sixteenth position here last year, as does Overall who was eighth. The 27-year-old Blackheath man clocked an impressive 47:37 for fourth in the recent Bupa Great South Run in Portsmouth to prove his endurance is sharp.
Returning from calf surgery, reigning Northern cross-country champion and third-placer from the national equivalent in early 2010, Stockport’s Steve Vernon should also be one to watch. The 30-year-old finished seventh in an international in Belgium earlier this month and hopes to make a return to GB action.
2009/10 Challenge series winner Andy Vernon of Aldershot has not raced since placing tenth in the Commonwealth Games 10,000m final last month, but should the 24-year-old decide to contest the trial, he should also be at the fore of the field.
Combined with the under-23 ladies, this event should boil down to a scrap between Scotland’s two recent Commonwealth Games representatives, Steph Twell and Freya Murray.
Twell should easily take the under-23 top spot but the 21-year-old may not have the senior race her own way following Murray’s fine 52:27 10-miler in Portsmouth recently.
The 27-year-old Chester-le-Street runner, fifth in the Commonwealth 10,000m and seventh behind Twell in the 5,000m, will be hoping to go one place better than last year where she finished runner-up to comeback queen Hayley Yelling - who went onto take a surprise European crown in Dublin last winter – and finished ninth herself in Ireland.
Twell, recently third in the Commonwealth 1,500m and fastest in the national cross-country relays, will want to make up for missing the 2009 race and do so in style, though after finishing eleventh senior in Dublin, it is unsure which age category she will choose to contest in Portugal.
The Charnwood trio of Gemma Steel, Jane Potter and Hannah Whitmore should also feature highly, as should Chester-le-Street’s newest signing, Andrea Woodvine.
In a competitive contest, any of four men could realistically take victory here, all of which attended the last continental championships and who are hungry for more success.
Nick Goolab, the 20-year-old from Belgrave Harriers, was fourth-quickest in the senior race in Mansfield and proved last year that even fifth in the trials could still achieve a medal at the right time, with second in Dublin.
Another medallist from Ireland, James Wilkinson will be hoping to go one better than last year’s race by winning and although only eighth-fastest senior in Mansfield, the 20-year-old Leeds City AC runner excels over the longer distances.
Closely matched in their one battle so far this season, Ricky Stevenson of New Marske Harriers will be hoping to retain his u23 title here, when the 22-year-old was fourth amongst seniors twelve months ago before placing eighth in the under-23 Europeans.
21-year-old Ashley Harrell of Norwich will do well to replicate his 2009 third-place position and will be hoping to improve on 29th place from the Europeans.
As previously mentioned, this category is Twell’s for the taking but a trio of the team from last year’s Dublin race should also be in contention.
City of Norwich’s Hollie Rowland has been working on her endurance of late with a solid 58:37 10-mile effort in Portsmouth and will hope to replicate her runner-up position from twelve months ago before progressing to improve on her fifth position from Ireland.
Sixth and tenth, respectively, in the Europeans, Lauren Howarth and Steve Stockton are both in fine form again and should make the squad. Howarth, 20 from Leigh Harriers was 13th in the World cross last March and took the third-fastest time of the day in Mansfield. Stockton, meanwhile, has just returned from the UKA training camp in Kenya and the 21-year-old from Vale Royal AC should replicate her third-place-finish from the 2009 edition.
Another athlete to watch will be Twell’s club-mate Emma Pallant. Although primarily a track runner, the 21-year-old recently proved her strength with a 55:09 clocking in the Great South and was also second-fastest behind Twell in the relays.
John McDonnell, who ran the race of his life to register the fastest time at the relay could cause another stir here but the 19-year-old from Luton will need to improve on his 15th from 2009 and will have to surprise, amongst others, the reigning victor Richard Goodman.
The 17-year-old Shaftesbury runner took last year’s race in pleasantly-shocking fashion and progressed to take fifth in Dublin. The 2009/10 series winner will also be joined by Jonathan Hay and Elliot Palmer – second and third-fastest in Mansfield.
Aldershot’s Hay anchored his team to a thirty-nine-second victory and the 18-year-old could improve on from third and 23rd from here and Ireland last winter.
Palmer, 19 of Ipswich, was only 31st here last year but is a much-improved athlete of late and could also qualify.
The usual dominating display will be expected of Aldershot’s Charlotte Purdue, following the 19-year-old’s remarkable performances in the Commonwealth event.
Fourth in the 10,000m and sixth in the 5,000m, respectively, Purdue is another step on from the athlete that placed 14th in the world cross earlier this year and despite a marginally best of the day time in the relays, she should be back to her obliterating best after a few weeks’ training.
Others expected to feature include her team-mate 18-year-old Beth Carter, third-fastest in Mansfield and Shaftesbury’s Sophie Connor, 17, who was slightly quicker in the same event.
Not to be discounted, are Kate Avery and Beth Potter. The former took this race last year and finished third in Dublin, following a Challenge series win for the Shildon AC runner.
Potter, meanwhile, took third before placing 25th in the European event and the 18-year-old Shaftesbury athlete should be close to the top three here again.
Younger Age Groups
Robbie Farnham-Rose of Tonbridge should be the one to watch in the under-17 men’s race after the 16-year-old took the fastest leg in the relays, whilst a thrilling battle should be expected in the women’s equivalent.
Jessica Judd and reigning champion from the joint under-20 and under-17 race, Emelia Gorecka will lock horns in what could be one of the most exciting races of the day.
Chelmsford’s 15-year-old Judd had the advantage in Mansfield but Aldershot’s 16-year-old Gorecka will be determined to make up for the last year’s disappointment, where after the race of her young life, she could still not attend the Europeans due to being too young.
Judd’s club-mate Sophie Riches, 15, was fastest in the under-15 girls’ relay recently and should do well here, whilst the Goddard twins – Hannah and Grace – from Bracknell AC, should dominate the under-13 event.