Mo Farah has to settle for second in his first race of 2016 as USA’s Heath wins in Edinburgh for the third year in a row, while Avery has another strong run for the biggest victory of her career
Garrett Heath can now add Mo Farah to the list of athletes he has beaten in the Scottish capital over the past few years. On Saturday the American secured his third successive victory at the Great Edinburgh XCountry, denying Britain’s double Olympic, world and European track champion a win in his first race of 2016.
Kate Avery was another athlete to impress in Edinburgh as the two-time Euro Cross silver medallist secured the biggest victory of her career so far, beating Ireland’s two-time Euro Cross champion Fionnuala McCormack by four seconds at a muddy Holyrood Park.
The men’s 8km race had come down to a quick, though perhaps not quite a sprint, finish. Farah is known for his closing strength but after the race he explained how he “couldn’t really sprint” this time because of the slippery conditions. The race marked the start of Farah’s racing campaign in Olympic year, with the 32-year-old working towards the defence of his 5000m and 10,000m titles in Rio in August, and was his first cross country outing since 2011. Heath, meanwhile, has a fine record of recent success in Edinburgh and won the 2014 and 2015 short course races over 4km, beating athletes such as Asbel Kiprop, Kenenisa Bekele, Silas Kiplagat and Jairus Birech in the process.
“It’s better to lose now than to lose in August,” said Farah, who bounced back after defeat in 2010 by winning double European track gold.
Scotland’s Callum Hawkins had been the one to initially push on from the pack in the opening stages. After the second of two shorter laps, he remained at the front ahead of GB team-mates Dewi Griffiths and Ross Millington.
As the field began to stretch out further, Farah and Heath moved up and with two laps to go Hawkins led from Heath, Millington and Farah. Farah made a move as the lead group approached the final lap. Pushing on up the hill he was ahead of Heath but the American was just ahead at the bell.
The battle was on and as Heath ploughed on, Farah looked less steady. He couldn’t make up ground and despite a final surge the 2011 winner had to settle for second this time around – 25:29 to 25:31. Heath’s team-mate Scott Fauble came through for third in 25:38 as Hawkins finished fourth in 25:41 and Millington fifth in 25:43.
While the men’s race kept fans guessing until the end, Avery made her move in the women’s 6km event earlier on and although McCormack was tracking her, the Briton completed a determined run in 21:05 to beat her rival by four seconds. Avery’s four lap splits were 5:13, 5:18, 5:16 and 5:18.
Avery and McCormack had been joined by Spain’s Trihas Gebre on the second lap and by the third lap Britain’s 2014 Euro Cross champion Gemma Steel was closing the gap. As Gebre faded to seventh, Steel secured third in 21:31 ahead of Europe’s Ancuta Bobocel with 21:38 and Britain’s Charlotte Arter with 21:39.
“I’m over the moon with that win,” Avery told the BBC straight after the race. “I always seem to be in the medals, never quite on top.” It was the biggest win of the 24-year-old’s career so far, with the Commonwealth 10,000m fourth-placer also working towards Rio.
There was a popular home win for the Scotland A team as the Great Edinburgh XCountry 4x1km Relay got the televised action underway.
Cameron Boyek impressed on the first leg, running a strong 2:43 to hold off Britain’s Charlie Grice as Europe came through for second place at the hand-over.
Boyek handed the baton to Steph Twell as the Scotland A team retained the lead from England and Europe into the second leg. Ireland’s Laura Crowe ran well, coming through for third ahead of the Scotland B team and Britain and putting Twell under a bit of pressure.
At the start of the third leg, Scotland A’s Jake Wightman led from Scotland B’s Josh Kerr in the opening stages before Ireland battled back. Michael Rimmer, getting involved in a rare cross-country outing, was in fourth at the final hand-over.
Laura Muir for Scotland A instantly grew the gap as she attacked the final leg. Maintaining that lead she crossed the line with 11:34 on the clock ahead of Britain with 11:43 and Ireland’s 11:44. Muir clocked 3:02 for the last leg.
Earlier on and the junior races had seen a British double as triathlete Alex Yee won the 6km event in 19:23 and European junior 1500m champion Bobby Clay the 4km. It was a GB 1-2 in the women’s race as Euro Cross junior silver medallist Harriet Knowles-Jones finished as runner-up, 14:09 to 14:11.
In the final team standings, Great Britain and Northern Ireland came top with 125 points ahead of Europe with 197 and USA with 232.
» See the January 14 edition of AW magazine for much more in-depth reports, results and pictures from Edinburgh