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UK Athletics

mccain liverpool cross challenge

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Gemma Steel
Gemma Steel

23 November 2011

After convincing wins at the McCain Bristol Cross Challenge, Frank Tickner and Gemma Steel (coach: John Nuttall) - who will be joined in competitive fields by, amongst many others, athletes returning from the UKA/London Marathon altitude training camp in Kenya - will be targeting victories at the McCain Liverpool Cross Challenge incorporating the European Cross Country Trials at Sefton Park on Saturday (26 November).

Tickner, who recorded his best ever international performance when finishing tenth in the 2008 European Cross Country Championships in Brussels, has once again struggled with an injury-interrupted season but looked strong in Bristol when winning a closely fought battle with runbritain Grand Prix winner Phil Wicks (Matt Whiting), who posted a time of 2:15:37 at Amsterdam Marathon after a strong season on the roads.

The pair will be joined by defending Liverpool champion Andy Vernon, a constant force in domestic cross country in recent years, who concluded his summer on a high with victory over 5000m at the World University Games in China.

Three-time McCain UK Cross Challenge Series champion Vernon - who has, arguably, unfinished business at the European Cross Country Championships after he failed to finish due to stomach cramps in Portugal last year when a top ten finish had looked possible - recorded his best ever World Cross finish in 58th in March and will be targeting a Trials victory and a place on the Aviva GB & NI team for this year’s European Cross in Velenje, Slovenia (Sunday 11 December).

The men face strong opposition from Andy Hobdell-coached duo Mark Draper and Andy Baddeley plus James Wilkinson (Phil Townsend), all due to return from Kenya tomorrow (24 November); Wilkinson, an impressive European junior cross country bronze medallist in 2009, is likely to target selection for the under-23 event rather than the senior competition and based on his 2011 form, could be a realistic medal contender in December.

UK-based NCAA athletes, mainly in the under-23 age group, are committed to returning for the Trial if they wish to be considered for selection and Mitch Goose (Tim/Pauline Ash), who successfully made the team 12 months ago after returning from the States, is expected to do so. Domestically, Derek Hawkins (Lawrie Spence), fourth under-23 in 2010 and 48th in the European Cross Country Championships, will want to build on that this time around and should also be in contention.

Women’s runbritain Grand Prix champion Gemma Steel, who finished over 40 seconds clear of runner up Naomi Taschimowitz (Charlotte Fisher) in the opening event of the McCain Cross Challenge Series, is without doubt the favourite for the senior women’s title in the absence of outstanding European Junior Cross Country champion Charlotte Purdue (Mick Woods) - now under-23 but a likely candidate for senior selection - who has regrettably withdrawn from the McCain Liverpool Cross Challenge following UKA medical advice, but has asked to be considered for selection.

Purdue’s training partner Stephanie Twell (Mick Woods) makes a welcome return to competitive cross country action however, following a lengthy period out with injury after a fractured ankle sustained in February. Twell has also been training in Kenya, and although still building fitness, is likely to challenge for an Aviva GB & NI team place at either under-23 or senior level, if not a podium position.

Also returning from Kenya and expected to line up in Liverpool are Hatti Dean (Bud Baldaro), last year’s runner up and an impressive seventh place finisher in the 2010 European Cross Country Championships; European under-23 5000m bronze medallist Stevie Stockton (George Gandy), the third British scoring athlete at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in March, and, although not best known as a cross country athlete, Charlene Thomas (Aaron Thomas), who will return to competitive action for the first time since injury curtailed her season last summer.

Scotland’s Freya Murray (Steve Jones), ninth in the 2009 European Cross Country Championships in Dublin, will also be targeting a team spot after injury saw her miss out 12 months ago.

In the junior events, Annabel Gummow (Chris Woolridge) and Kieran Clements (Steve Benson), who dominated the under-20 races in Bristol with winning leads of 84 seconds and 45 seconds respectively, have made their cases as the form athletes.

Gummow - an Aviva GB & NI representative at the World and European Cross Country Championships in 2010 - was sixth in Liverpool 12 months ago but finished third team scorer and tenth overall in Portugal; she went onto finish an impressive 22nd in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in March behind reigning European junior Cross Country silver medallist Emelia Gorecka (Mick Woods) who was the first Brit home - and first European - in 15th.

The pair have enjoyed significant medal success at European level this year, finishing second and third respectively over 5000m at the European Junior Championships in Tallinn, Estonia this summer, and their rivalry, a positive one for the Aviva GB & NI team, will resume in earnest this weekend.

Also in contention is IAAF World Youth 800m bronze medallist Jessica Judd (Jeremy Freeman), unbeaten since mid-August with the exception one track 3000m, who is now 16 years-old and eligible for the Aviva GB & NI junior team after numerous cross country triumphs in recent years including the McCain UK Cross Challenge final (2010) and consecutive English Schools Cross Country titles since 2009.

Clements, 12th in last year’s junior race and second under-17, made a brave decision to step up an age group for the World Cross Country Trials in March, one which didn’t pay off on that occasion, but has seen him develop into a more experienced junior and a serious challenger for a medal position and a place on the Aviva GB & NI team.

He’ll be joined by 2010 Liverpool runner up and overall McCain Cross Challenge winner Jonny Hay (Mick Woods) - the top European junior finisher in the 2011 World Cross Country Championships in 39th- Richard Goodman (Geoff Williams), second behind Hay in the World Cross Trials in March and Charlie Grice (Jon Bigg), who posted impressive track times over 800m and 1500m this summer, who have all reportedly been training well in Kenya, plus defending champion John McDonnell (John Stoker), third Aviva GB & NI team scorer at the European Cross Country Championships in Portugal last year.

At the Trial, the first three eligible juniors (under-20s) and seniors in their respective events will be selected onto the Aviva GB & NI team automatically while the first three eligible under-23 athletes in the combined Trial (with the seniors), will also be selected automatically.

Elsewhere, and following their McCain Cross Challenge Series opening wins in Bristol, Becky Straw (Cannock & Stafford AC, under-17); Elisabeth Hood (Poole AC, under-15); Paulos Asgodom (Enfield & Haringey, under-15); Elizabeth Greenwood (Blackburn Harriers, under-13); Hugo Milner (Derby AC, under-13); and Charlie Clark (Tonbridge AC, under-11) will be looking to make it two from two with victories in the age group events.

Competing in the European Clubs Cross Country Trial, which is incorporated within the senior events, Charnwood (England), Edinburgh AC (Scotland) and Swansea Harriers (Wales) will compete for the women’s UK spot while Central AC (Scotland), Stockport Harriers (England) and Swansea Harriers (Wales) will battle it out to represent the men.

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

The European Cross Country Selection Policy can be read in full here.