Bydgoszcz is the goal with selection places for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships up for grabs on Saturday
With the IAAF World Cross Country Championships now being biennial, there was no championship last year. So in the absence of any trial element at the Inter-Counties, Keith Gerrard and Gemma Steel won the titles in Cofton Park, completing a National and Inter-Counties double.
Here we take a look at who could prove dominant in 2013, with selection places for Bydgoszcz on March 24 up for grabs.
You might expect this year’s Inter-Counties to be tougher than last year’s due to World Cross selection being up for grabs, but the 2012 champion Gerrard is missing the race in order to prepare for the track season and reduce his 10,000m PB.
Tom Humphries is also not on the entry lists and Andy Vernon, who is on the Hampshire team lists, has been struggling with an Achilles injury.
Frank Tickner, the southern champion, is expected to run, while Steve Vernon, the National runner-up, will, as always, be tough to beat. Other contenders are likely to include Neilson Hall and Jonathan Taylor.
Elsewhere, the race could see a number of younger athletes make an impact. In the Surrey team alone we see Ian Bailey, the National junior champion, undertake his first senior race, not to mention Jonny Hay and BUCS champion Stephen Connor.
Louise Damen, who won the National by a full minute at a muddy Herrington Park in Sunderland recently, should start favourite in the women’s race. Her recent form has also seen her finish11th at the European Cross Country Championships in December as well as win the previous event in the McCain Cross Challenge Series in Cardiff.
Possible rivals include Hatti Archer, Euro under- 23 champion Jess Coulson and defending champion Steel.
After winning her seventh English National and seventh Southern cross-country title, Emelia Gorecka, pictured in 2012 Inter-Counties action above, goes for her seventh Inter-Counties title this weekend.
If, or rather when, she qualifies for the World Cross she will be hoping to break up the African stranglehold on the premier positions in the junior women’s race.
Gorecka was 23rd in Bydgoszcz in 2010, 15th in Punta Umbria in 2011 and she hopes to break into the top 10 when the event returns to Bydgoszcz this year.
In addition, the junior women’s team will have the strongest chances at the World Cross too because the trial race will be packed with talent generally with the likes of Annabel Mason and Bobby Clay, who will move up to compete in the Under-20 race alongside sister Alex.
With Bailey no longer in the junior ranks, the under-20 men’s race is likely to be between Jonny Davies and National runner-up Michael Callegari.
The races will be shown live on Sky Sports and next week’s Athletics Weekly will bring you all the behind-the-scenes news, photos and results.
» For more on the Inter-Counties Championships including the McCain Cross Challenge standings and information on the World Cross selection policy see the current issue of AW (March 7), which is available here