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mccain uk cross challenge final

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Andy Vernon

03 March 2011

Andy Vernon (coach: Nick Anderson) is on course for a third successive McCain UK Cross Challenge Series victory in the McCain UK Cross Challenge Final and World Cross Trials at Cofton Park, Birmingham, this Saturday (5 March).

Vernon, who in spite of a valiant effort lost out to double European Champion Mo Farah (coach: Alberto Salazar) 12 months ago in Birmingham but took the overall series win, is unlikely to have it all his own way this weekend as namesake Steve Vernon (coach: Dave Turnbull), the English National cross country champion, will undoubtedly take confidence from that victory into the domestic season finale.

European 3000m Record holder Farah is absent in a bid to defend his crown at the European Indoor Athletics Championships in Paris, but the outcome in Cofton Park should be more exciting as a result with potentially one of the most evenly matched fields in recent years.

North East duo Ross Murray (coach: Craig Winrow), the BUCS Cross Country Championships runner-up and Ryan McLeod (coach: John Nuttall), a member of the Aviva GB&NI team in December’s SPAR European Cross Country Championships, will be in contention alongside Scotland West’s Derek Hawkins (coach: Lawrie Spence), winner of the Scottish National Cross Country Championships and top placed GB&NI under-23 athlete in the International Team Challenge at the BUPA Great Edinburgh Cross Country.

BUCS champion Nick Goolab (coach: Steve Sharp) and third place finisher James Wilkinson (coach: Phil Townsend) will want to recapture the form which saw them win European Junior cross country medals in 2009, while Tom Humphries (coach: Phil Clamp) is also in the mix for selection onto the Aviva GB&NI team for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Spain later this month (20 March).

The senior women’s race is perhaps less tough to call when considering the absolute domination of European Junior Cross Country champion Charlotte Purdue (coach: Mick Woods) over the course of the past 12 months, although Scottish National champion Freya Murray (coach: Steve Jones), the defending champion in this event, is clearly returning to full fitness after a period out injured following her exceptional Great South Run performance back in October and will battle hard with the young Aldershot athlete.

Purdue, who most recently recorded a relatively narrow victory over her team mate Louise Small (coach: Mick Woods) in the English National (under-20), is unbeaten in domestic competition in 2011 and could win her first senior Inter Counties title. She defeated Stevie Stockton (coach: George Gandy) - who will also be targeting World Cross selection this weekend - by over a minute in the BUCS cross country a month ago, and is the current leader of the McCain UK Cross Challenge Series.

Emma Pallant, another of the strong Mick Woods-coached Aldershot contingent, will want to build on her European under-23 cross country bronze medal with selection onto the Aviva GB&NI senior team for Spain, while Hatti Dean (coach: Bud Baldaro) and Gemma Steel (coach: Roy Stowell), team silver medallists in December’s European Cross Country Championships, are also likely to be targeting medal positions.

Helen Clitheroe (coach: John Nuttall), also a member of that senior women’s scoring quartet in Portugal, is competing for the Aviva GB&NI team over 3000m in this weekend’s European Indoor Championships and does not want to be considered for World Cross selection, while McCain Liverpool Challenge and European Cross Trials winner Louise Damen (self-coached) has opted to focus her attentions on the Virgin London Marathon.

AFD athletes will also be to the fore in the Junior Trial races with Jonny Hay and Emelia Gorecka, both coached by Mick Woods and representing Surrey, potential gold medal contenders.

Both athletes won their respective English National titles - Gorecka’s in the under-17 age group - and both have high class credentials: Hay, a member of the gold medal winning Aviva GB&NI junior team in the 2010 European Cross Country Championships and current McCain UK Cross Challenge Series leader, and Gorecka, the European Junior Cross Country Championships bronze medallist who will line up alongside her AFD team mate Louise Small (coach: Mick Woods) who competes for Hampshire on this occasion.

Small’s own CV is no less impressive, and with two wins from three events in the under-20 category she leads the McCain UK Cross Challenge Series overall going into Saturday’s final.

Also in the mix and vying for selection are Beth Carter, representing Kent, and Georgia Peel, representing Surrey, both coached by Mick Woods. However, Cornwall’s Annabel Gummow (coach: Chris Wooldridge), an Aviva GB&NI representative in December’s European Cross, could prevent an AFD clean sweep in the junior women’s race.

There’s a more even geographical spread of medal potentials in the junior men’s race as Hay is joined by Kieran Clements, winner of the English National (under-17), who steps up an age group in a bid to earn international selection.

He’s joined by Kent’s Robbie Farnham-Rose (coach: Mark Hookway) who celebrated his international debut with team gold in the 2010 European Cross, in addition to Hampshire’s Harvey Dixon (coach: Mick Woods), defending McCain UK Cross Challenge overall winner (under-20) Richard Goodman (coach: Geoff Williams)and Ross Matheson (coach: Dave Campbell), the Scottish National cross country champion and 2010 Series winner (under-17) who raced to gold in this event in the younger age group 12 months ago.

The non-Trial events also promise much: under-17 Jessica Judd (coach: Jeremy Freeman), winner in Birmingham 12 months ago and second in the English National cross country in February, hasn’t finished outside the top two in any race this year and will be looking to continue that record when she lines up against Alice Burgin (Bedfordshire), current leader of the McCain UK Cross Challenge Series with two wins from two starts this weekend. In the boys’ race Benedict Westhenry (Dorset), the 2010 McCain UK Cross Challenge overall winner (under-15), steps up an age group to go head-to-head with current Series leader Grant Muir (Scotland West).

In the under-15 category, current girls’ Series leader Harriett Preedy (Surrey) lines up against the defending McCain UK Cross Challenge overall winner Abbie Hetherington (Cumbria) while Adam Howard (Greater Manchester), the English National champion, is favourite to take the boys’ individual and overall title from his position as current Series leader.

Bethany Donnelly (Greater Manchester), the current leader of the McCain UK Cross Challenge (under-13) Series, goes up against Katie Rowe (Hampshire), the 2010 McCain UK Cross Challenge overall winner and also defending champion in this race and Surrey’s Kate Sheil-Rankin winner of the recent English National while in the boy’s race Ashley Waterson (Norfolk), current Series leader looks to secure the overall title.

The first three eligible junior and senior athletes in the Trial races will be selected, subject to them meeting at least two of the set criteria, with the potential for a further three junior and senior athletes to be selected, up to a maximum of six. For full details, please view the selection policy.

Live coverage of the McCain UK Cross Challenge Final and World Cross Trials is on Sky Sports 3 from 11.00am and live updates will be available throughout the day on UKA’s Twitter.

Additional event information can be found in the dedicated McCain UK Cross Challenge section on the UKA website.