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european cross country championships

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Emelia Gorecka

7 December 2013

The SPAR European Cross Country Championships take place in Belgrade, Serbia, tomorrow and 570 athletes from 36 countries will compete at the 20th edition of the championships.

A full 36-strong GB & NI team will look for a repeat of the success of the last two years, where every member of the team has returned home with a medal.

Conditions will be cold with a light sprinkling of snow covering the flat, narrow course making it firm and fast underfoot.

Senior Men

The GB & NI senior men’s team won silver at the European Cross Country Championships in Budapest last year and will be well placed for another team medal this time round.

Tom Farrell (coach: Dave Smith) was fourth overall last year and returns to the team for Belgrade where he will be joined by Andy Vernon (Nic Bideau), Keith Gerrard (Art Acevedo), Adam Hickey (Eamonn Martin), Charlie Hulson (Paul Roden) and Frank Tickner (Clive Thomas).

Vernon’s best finish as a senior came in 2011 when he was ninth, but arrives in Serbia in superb form after winning the Trial in Liverpool and has his sights set on a podium placing this time around.

“I want to come away with a medal,” he said. “I’m not going to say I’ll be disappointed if I don’t but that’s the target.”

Having walked the course, the 27 year old insists that his race plan is the same as it has always been.

He continued: “It’s a bit narrower than I thought it would be, especially after the first corner where it narrows quite suddenly, so that’s something to be wary about. Other than that the plan is as it always was.”

The senior men’s race takes place at 1.09pm UK time.


Senior Women

Gemma Steel’s (John Nuttall) return to the European Cross Country scene is a welcome boost for the senior women’s team. Two years ago the Charnwood athlete won an individual bronze medal and team gold in Valenje, Slovenia.

The 28-year-old is certainly one to watch this year. A commanding victory at the Trials in Liverpool, coupled with winning the Bupa Birmingham Half Marathon in October, indicate Steel could find herself on the podium once again.

“I’m really excited,” revealed Steel. “I missed out last year and it’s just nice to be here.

“Everything is going in the right direction going into the championships. I look back to two years ago and I wasn’t in the shape that I’m in now and it was a surprise to get the bronze medal.

“Things are going positively. It’s always an aim to get in the top three if not one or two places better. I know that Fionnuala Britton is the class favourite and one of the Belgian girls is in good form so I’m going to go into it and hope for the best.”

Joining Steel is a hugely experienced line-up which boasts the likes of cross country experts Steph Twell (Mick Woods) and Lauren Howarth (Pete Riley). Olympian 5000m and 10,000m Julia Bleasdale (self-coached), Katie Brough (Andrew Carter) and Lauren Deadman (Bill Foster) will be looking to help achieve another podium finish for the team.

The senior women’s race takes place at 12.12pm UK time.


Under 23 Men

A strong GB & NI under 23 men’s team will line up with high hopes of both individual and team medals.

Luke Caldwell (Robert Russell) finished tenth at the recent NCAA Cross Country Championships in the USA and will be in confident mood as he prepares to make his GB & NI cross country debut.

However, it was Jonathan Hay that was first under 23 in Liverpool two weeks ago, second overall in the senior men’s race, to ensure that he arrives at his fourth European Cross Country Championships in great form.

Hay said: “The course looks pretty flat and pretty fast, there’s not much mud out there either. It’s pretty much as I expected. I think it will be best to take it more as a track race but I don’t mind it being fast and the finish looks perfect for me which is good.”

“I’m just going to go out there and see what I can do; a medal is always going to be an aim but I’ll just have to see what I can do. If we do a good job then hopefully our team can come home with a medal as well.”

Hay and Caldwell will be joined in the under 23 team by Richard Goodman, Jack Goodwin (Simon Goodwin), Dewi Griffiths (Kevin Evans) and Callum Hawkins (Robert Hawkins).

The under 23 men’s race takes place at 11.19pm UK time.


Under 23 Women

The GB & NI under 23 women's team is arguably one of the strongest line-ups in the field in the Serbian capital. Boasting four junior medals from previous European Cross Country Championships along with a plethora of athletes with vast cross country and track experience, the 2013 under 23 team is certainly one to look out for on the podium individually and collectively.

Leading the charge is Charlotte Purdue (Mick Woods), who has a superb record at these championships; individual gold as junior in 2010 followed by silver (2008) and bronze (2007).

“I really liked the course. My coach Mick (Woods) had already seen the course a few months ago so he already prepared me for it,” said the Aldershot, Farnham & District athlete.

“I thought it was pretty perfect conditions and as long as it doesn’t snow overnight it looks fine and not too muddy.

“I’m excited to run. I just want to finish up as high as I can so we will see what happens on the day. It’s my second cross country race of the year and I’d definitely love to medal.”

Purdue is joined by GB & NI debutant Jessica Andrews (Woods), Rhona Auckland (Joyce Hogg), Kate Avery (Tony Simmons), Lilly Partridge (Mick Woods) and London 2012 Olympian Laura Weightman (Steve Cram).

The under 23 women’s race takes place at 10.30am UK time.


Under 20 Men

In 2012 there was an individual bronze medal for Kieran Clements (Ricardo Santos) as the GB & NI team also picked up bronze but this year there are six new faces in the team competing in Belgrade.

Jonathan Davies (Rob McKim) will lead the team after a dominant victory in Liverpool to remain unbeaten on the cross this season. The 19 year old, who won bronze over 5,000m at the European Junior Championships in the summer, is hopeful of continuing British success in this event.

He said: “It’s going to be fast; the course is pretty flat and hard. I’m feeling alright, I’ll hopefully get a medal, that’s the plan, but I’ll have to see how it goes.

“It’s exactly as I thought it would be so I need to get in a reasonably good position at the start and then hold on. I need to be sensible at the start so I don’t do any of the work at the beginning and just sit in a little bit.”

Davies will be joined on the start line by Michael Callegari (Nadeem Shaikh), Jack Crabtree (Norman Poole), Zak Miller (Paul Shaw), Matthew Shirling (Adrian Webb) and Alex Short (Phil O’Dell) as the GB & NI look to continue their record of winning a team medal in this age group every year since 2007.

The under 20 men’s race takes place at 9.43am UK time.


Junior Women

Emelia Gorecka (Mick Woods) is looking to end her junior cross country career on a high this weekend.  The Aldershot, Farnham & District athlete will be striving to win her fourth consecutive European Cross Country Championships medal.

2013 has been a memorable year for the 19-year-old with success both on the track and in cross country. Gorecka run a superb 5000m at the European Team Championships to finish second before being crowned European Junior champion over 3000m. While also securing cross country titles at the English National and BUCS championships.

“Over the past three years at the European Cross Country Championships I’ve got a bronze, gold and silver so it would be quite nice to get another gold,” revealed Gorecka.

“The course is very similar to Slovenia two years ago and I won on that course. I’m looking forward to it.”

Should the likes of Gorecka’s fellow junior team mates Bobby Clay (Peter Mullervy), Jessica Gibbon (Rob McKim), Amy Griffiths (Mick Woods), Georgia Taylor-Brown (Paul Roden) and Lydia Turner (Thomas Millmore) need any advice, Gorecka is more than happy to pass on her knowledge.

“I will be open to give any advice. I walked the course with them today and we were speaking through different things.

“Although for some of them it’s their first championships and there’s a reason why they are on the team. I have no doubt they will go out hard tomorrow but I will be happy to give any advice. My advice would be to run hard and enjoy it as it’s a great championships.”

The under 20 women’s race takes place at 9.00am UK time.


The European Cross Country Championships will be shown on BBC2 from 12pm.