Emelia Gorecka and Ben Connor lead the GB challenge in Slovakia, while Euro Cross bronze medallist Callum Hawkins backs fellow Scot Andrew Butchart
A record 576 athletes representing 37 nations are set to race at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Samorin, Slovakia, on Sunday (December 10).
Among those on the 40-strong GB team are trials winners Emelia Gorecka and Ben Connor plus world and Olympic 5000m finalist Andrew Butchart, who has been tipped for success by his fellow Scot and last year’s Euro Cross bronze medallist Callum Hawkins.
Butchart placed fifth in the GB trial race at Liverpool’s muddy Sefton Park but the 2016 Euro Cross fourth-placer should find the flat and firm course in Samorin much more to his liking.
“He definitely can get a medal,” said Hawkins, who is missing the European event to concentrate on his road racing ambitions, including London’s new half-marathon The Big Half and the Commonwealth Games marathon.
“He (Butchart) was fourth last year (in Chia) and not too far off the medals. It’s just going to be about who turns up on the day and what shape he turns up in.
“I definitely believe he can get a medal, if not win it.”
Butchart himself believes he will benefit from having had a lower-key lead in to this year’s championships.
“It feels as if there has been less of a build-up to the Euro Cross and less of a focus on me – and that’s fine,” he told Scottish Athletics.
“I was team captain in Chia last year for GB and very proud to do that and of course we came away with senior men’s team gold with Callum taking that bronze and myself in fourth. This time, I was fifth in the trial (at Liverpool) and there’s no way I’m happy about that!
“If the course in Slovakia turns out the way it looks and is a dry surface then I’d be really confident of doing pretty well; maybe even getting in medal contention again.”
Turkish athletes won both the senior men’s and women’s individual titles in Chia last year, with both Aras Kaya and Yasemin Can defending their titles.
The 2016 champions are Kenyan-born and this year’s Turkish team has also proven controversial, with four athletes who were born in Kenya featuring on the senior men’s team.
GB’s senior men won the team title ahead of Spain and Turkey last year and the squad – which also features Dewi Griffiths, Tom Lancashire, Sam Stabler and Alex Teuten alongside Butchart and Connor – will be hoping for similar success this time around.
Teuten is keen for the event to mark the start of an international success story as he represents GB for the first time (interview here).
Paul Pollock heads Ireland’s senior men’s team after his Irish Life Health title win, while Filip and Henrik Ingebrigtsen will be racing for Norway, with their brother Jakob defending his under-20 title.
British team captain Gorecka will look to continue her fine form after bouncing back after a series of injury struggles to win the Liverpool Cross Challenge. Joining her on the GB senior women’s team are 2014 Euro Cross champion Gemma Steel, who finished third at the trials, plus Lily Partridge, Charlotte Taylor, Steph Twell and Elle Vernon. GB finished second in the team standings last year behind Turkey.
All bar one of the top eight-placed athletes in Chia return to race the senior women’s event in Samorin, including Ireland’s two-time winner Fionnuala McCormack as she makes a record 15th Euro Cross appearance.
Last year’s silver medallist Meryem Akdag joins Can on the Turkish team, while Norway’s 2016 bronze medallist Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal also returns.
Judd and Mahamed among under-23 ones to watch
Jessica Judd (pictured below, 1027) and Mahamed Mahamed were the top under-23 athletes at the British trials in Liverpool, finishing second and sixth respectively.
Judd and her team-mates Philippa Bowden, Amy-Eloise Neale, Amy Griffiths, Phoebe Law and Mhairi Maclennan will face Germany’s two-time under-20 champion Konstanze Klosterhalfen and her team-mates Alina Reh and Anna Gehring, who won silver 12 months ago ahead of GB’s Alice Wright.
“I’m really excited,” said Judd, who was 12th last year in Chia and part of the British team which won under-23 gold 12 months ago. “It’s something to aim for before Christmas. I think I’m in much better shape than I was last year so I’d like to be top 10 this time and hopefully challenge for a medal but I’ll see how it goes.”
Mahamed, who claimed under-20 bronze last year, has company in the form of team-mates Patrick Dever, Daniel Jarvis, Chris Olley, Jack Rowe and Joe Steward as they form part of an under-23 men’s field also featuring last year’s silver and bronze medallists Carlos Mayo of Spain and Yemaneberhan Crippa of Italy.
Ingebrigtsen and Knowles-Jones seek further success
Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen won under-20 gold in Chia and will look to retain that title after a superb summer which included double European gold on the track in the 5000m and 3000m steeplechase.
Triathlete Ben Dijkstra is set to be among those challenging him and his GB team-mates include Scott Beattie, Jake Heyward, William Richardson, Lachlan Wellington and Matthew Willis.
In her final few months in the age-group, Harriet Knowles-Jones will be on the hunt for another under-20 medal after her bronze last year and silver in 2015.
Also among the favourites is Switzerland’s European under-20 3000m champion Delia Sclabas.
The GB squad defends this team title and Knowles-Jones will be joined by Niamh Brown, Phoebe Barker, Cari Hughes, Khahisa Mhlanga, and Victoria Weir.
GB will also have a team in the inaugural mixed relay, with Cameron Boyek, Melissa Courtney, Tom Marshall and Sarah McDonald taking on an event which includes a first leg of around 1800m and three legs of roughly 1500m.
The final entry lists can be found here and the action will be streamed live on the European Athletics website from 08:45 local time (07:45 UK). There will also be coverage on the BBC Red Button, with highlights on BBC Two.
A timetable (in local time) can be found here.
» This week’s AW magazine includes a preview to Euro Cross action, while the December 14 edition will include in-depth reports, photos and results