Europe's elite head to Albufeira
Those European XC runners who harbor the desire to perform at highest level will be making their team gatherings, and performing their final preparations, as they get ready for this Sunday’s European Cross Country Championships in Portugal…
It is fair to say that when facing the world’s best on the country, there are few European athletes who can mix it – so these championships offer real and credible medal prospects for many an athlete who cannot live with the East Africans. That said the competition will be no less fierce this weekend, as the u20, u23 and senior titles are up for grabs.
With Mo Farah sitting this one out, it is difficult to look beyond 2009 winner Alemayehu Bezabeh. After his crushing defeat of Farah 12 months ago the Spainiard has had a disappointing summer on the track, but has recently returned to top XC form, winning the prestigious Cross Castellano-Manchego del Vino race. Sure, 8-time winner Sergey Lebid should never be discounted, and no matter what his form going into the Euro XC the Ukranian seems to be able to pull it out of the bag at this one.
But MST agrees with this European Athletics preview and thinks that the biggest and most realistic threat to another Bezabeh win comes from the diminutive Turk Mert Girmalegeses.
UK-wise our guys should be in there fighting for the team medals. Realistically individual glory is beyond our boys, though we think that trails winner Andy Vernon should be in with a shout of a top 15 finish.
12 months ago it seemed incomprehensible that Hayley Yelling would take a 2nd European title on the country. The Windsor school teacher had virtually retired from competitive athletics and over the summer had returned to some racing, and thus some more structured training. This culminated with her pitching-up at the Liverpool trials, and winning – immediately catapulting herself into ‘contender’ status for the the Dublin race 12 months ago.
What then happened at Santry Park last year can only be described as a fairy-tale. Yelling bolted out of the starting pen, quickly establishing a 50m lead, with fans no-doubt holding their breath for when she may ‘blow-up’. Blow-up she didnt, if anything increasing her lead for one of the most popular wins in recent years.
Fast-forward to December 2010 and the story is a little different, with Yelling-Higham (as she now is) struggling for her best form. Her 7th place in the trials saw her just making the team, though on the day she was well short of the UK winner Louise Damen. So who can we expect to be up there come Sunday?
On home soil the Portuguese girls will be highly charged, and contenders in the individual and team races. 4th in 2009 and a convincing winner of the Portuguese trails two weeks ago, Jenny Augusto will lead the charge.
“It’s logical that we want to repeat last year’s team win but I think I can also fight for an individual medal as well. I can’t deny that I’m dreaming about winning. I have never won an individual senior European title so it would be something special to do it on home soil,” said Augusto.
The UK team look very good on paper too. With Steph Twell bolstering the senior team (she is eligible for the U23 race) the British girls should be strong. Twell may also harbor individual glory after an excellent summer on the track.
EA preview here
Expect some very strong French, Belgian and Dutch competition here, however UK trials runner-up (senior race) James Wilkinson could spring a surprise. The Birmingham University student is in great form and will go into the race full of confidence, along with a very strong British team comprising 2009 medalists Nick Goolab, Mitch Goose and Ricky Stevenson.
With only last year’s winner and bronze medallist, France’s Noureddine Smaïl and Belgium’s Atelaw Bekele, having moved into the senior ranks from the top 10 that finished in 2009, this race should feature many of the names that did well in Dublin.
One name here, Bjerkeli Grøvdal. The Norwegian must surely be the hottest favourite of the day, and baring mishaps should take a second consecutive European title. Team-wise, once again the British girls will be very strong, with trials winner Emma Pallant leading the way.
With line-up information a little hard to get hold of it’s difficult to assess these races. What we can clearly state is that Charlotte Purdue has the UK’s best chance of individual gold. The AF&D pocket-rocket is in scintillating form, with some great track performances over the summer and a dominant trials victory
Great UKA preview here, with all of the news and previews from a UK perspective.
Follow all of the action on the Albufeira website for live-updates and though not listed here tune into the BEEB for some TV highlights (probably on the RED Button) that are sure to have you glued to the box…