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spar european cross country championships

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Emelia Gorecka
Emelia Gorecka en route to 2010 European Cross bronze

08 December 2011

Having topped the medal table for the third successive year at the 2010 SPAR European Cross Country Championships, the Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland team will once again set out with that objective for this year’s event in Velenje, Slovenia on Sunday 11 December.

Last year’s junior bronze medallist and recent Trials winner Emelia Gorecka (coach: Mick Woods) is arguably the greatest hope for individual gold.

Aiming to follow in the footsteps of 2010 champion and her Aldershot team mate Charlie Purdue, Gorecka - a silver medallist over 5000m at the European Junior Championships in July - will once again go head to head with Serbia’s Amela Terzic, runner-up 12 months ago and double European Junior Champion over 1500m and 3000m.

the major danger, however, could come from Germany’s Gesa Felicitas Krause. Although finishing outside the top ten in Albufeira, Portugal last year, the 19-year-old won the European Junior steeplechase title in Estonia and went onto clock a European Junior record of 9:32.74 when finishing ninth in the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, Korea.

Overall, the junior women have been the most successful of all Aviva GB & NI teams in recent years with eight gold medal performances since 2000, but it’s the under-23 women who have the opportunity to maintain a 100% record with five team wins from five since the inaugural age-group event in 2006.

No British woman has won gold in this event, but trials winner Hannah Walker (Bud Baldaro), eighth in the European Under-23 Championships 5000m final, spearheads a very strong British challenge alongside three times European Junior Champion Stephanie Twell (Mick Woods) who returns to international action for the first time since her serious injury in February, and 2011 bronze medallist Emma Pallant (Mick Woods).

Turkey’s defending champion Meryem Erdogan cannot be written off, but her recent form is unknown after failing to finish in both the 5000m and 10,000m in the European Under-23 Championships, while the team challenge appears limited to Great Britain, Germany and Turkey, as last year’s minor medallists, Russia and Ukraine, have opted out of sending full teams.

In the men’s events, Trials winners Jonny Hay (Mick Woods) and Andy Vernon (Nic Bideau) are potential individual medallists in the junior and senior men’s events respectively.

Vernon, an individual medallist for two successive years as an under-23, was disappointed to drop out in Portugal in 2010 after expectations of a top ten finish. The World University Games 5000m champion is the quickest in the field over that distance in 2011, but it’s hard to bet against nine-time winner and defending champion Serhiy Lebid of Ukraine - their sole entrant - to take his tenth win.

Last year’s runner up Ayad Lamdassem of Spain will also pose a threat while Abdellatif Meftah, who led France to team gold a year ago when finishing fourth, will also be in the mix.

The Aviva GB & NI senior men’s team, which also includes track specialist Andy Baddeley (Andy Hobdell) and James Walsh (Mike Baxter), the quickest in the line up over 10,000m this year, is arguably the strongest it’s been in a decade and has a realistic chance of a podium finish after missing out in 2010.

Hay, the European Junior Championships 5000m bronze medallist, will take confidence from finishing as the best placed European junior in the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships and should lead the British junior men to gold. Of last year’s podium finishers, only Portugal’s third placed Rui Pinto returns to defend that position, while 2010 champion Abdelaziz Merzougui (Spain) steps up to the under-23 category.

In one of the strongest Aviva GB & NI men’s under-23 teams in recent years, Trials winner Mitch Goose (Tim/Pauline Ash) will be looking to re-create the form which saw him finish fifth in the age group in 2009, while James Wilkinson (Phil Townsend), although disappointed with his run in Liverpool, was an individual bronze medallist as a junior in 2009 and should not be discounted.

The team failed to medal 12 months ago as Ireland won a brilliant team gold, but if they pack well on this occasion they could be in the mix for a minor placing. France, led by last year’s runner up Florian Carvalho, a former European Junior Cross Country champion and 2011 European Under-23 1500m champion, plus Spain, are favourites to take the overall title although Norway could also be in the mix and include European Under-23 5000m and 10,000m champions Sindre Buraas and Sondre Nordstad Moen.

Perhaps the toughest challenge of the day is likely to face the Aviva GB & NI senior women. With seven successive runners-up positions since 2004 (Paula Radcliffe’s victory led them to team gold in 2003) they have a hard act to follow.

Hatti Dean (Bud Baldaro), with two top ten finishes in the past three years in this event and a hard fought Trials victory to boost her confidence, should lead the team home. Gemma Steel (John Nuttall) has been consistently impressive over the summer and is expected to significantly improve on her 27th place a year ago, while Freya Murray (Steve Jones) - ninth in Dublin in 2009 - should add strength and experience to the trio. The decisive factor will be who can secure the crucial fourth scoring position, and more importantly, how far up the field.

Binnaz Uslu (Turkey) - a former European Junior and Under-23 Cross Country Champion - Ana Dulce Felix (Portugal) and Fionnuala Britton (Ireland) who were second, third and fourth respectively in Portugal in 2010, will target individual gold in the absence of last year’s champion Jessica Augusto (Portugal), while Portugal, winners of the team title for the past three years, are once again favourites to take that crown.

The event, with record numbers expected to compete, will be streamed live in its entirety by European Athletics with English language commentary through their website from 09:30 GMT at: www.european-athletics.org

The action will also be shown on BBC 2 from 12:30.

Post-race interviews will be uploaded to the European Athletics YouTube site at www.youtube.com/EuropeanAthletics throughout the day of the event while Aviva GB & NI specific updates will also be posted on UKA’s Twitter Feed at http://twitter.com/UKA_athletics