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european cross country championships preview

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Gemma Steel

11 December 2014

The 21st edition of the European Cross Country Championships gets under way in Bulgaria this weekend with the Great Britain & Northern Ireland team aiming to continue their impressive medal winning record at the event.

Last year’s silver medallist Gemma Steel (coach: John Nuttall) is targeting the gold this time around and she will lead a strong senior women’s team in Samokov. Steph Twell (Mick Woods) will make her ninth appearance at the European Cross Country Championships and will be aiming to continue her good form from the road this winter. They will be joined by NCAA Champion Kate Avery (Tony Simmons), Lily Partridge (Woods), Sonia Samuels and Elle Vernon (Steve Vernon).

The senior men to face the 9978m course combine a mixture of experience and those who are making their debuts on the European stage. Andrew Butchart (Derek Easton) was second at the trials in Liverpool two weeks ago and the Central AC athlete will be looking to make a mark on his maiden European Cross appearance. He is joined by Luke Caldwell (Nic Bideau) who finished fifth in the U23 race in Belgrade last year, Adam Hickey (Eamonn Martin), Tom Lancashire (Vernon), Ross Millington (Vernon) and Tom Wade (Geoff Watkin).

The U23 race will see Emelia Gorecka (Woods) making the step up in age groups after a superb second place behind Steel in the trials a fortnight ago. The two-time European Cross Junior champion will be one of the favourites for the title this time around. Rhona Auckland (Joyce Hogg) has been in good form recently after a new personal best of 33.03 at the Leeds Abbey Dash 10k last month and will be one to watch out for. They will be joined by Maryse Haynes (Bud Baldaro), Kate Holt (Alan Morris), Rebecca Murray (Alex Stanton) and Alice Wright (David Walker) as they look to match the gold medal winning exploits of the U23 team twelve months ago.

The men’s U23 race will include the trials winner from Sefton Park, Callum Hawkins (Robert Hawkins), who will have individual medal aspirations on Sunday. He's joined on the team by Jonathan Davies (Rob McKim), Will Gray (Baldaro), Jonny Hay (Woods), Charlie Hulson (Paul Roden) and Marc Scott (Steve Gulley), with the six men facing an undulating 7913m course.

European and Commonwealth 800m finalist Jessica Judd (George Gandy) is one of the favourites for the junior women’s title this weekend after her dominant display on Merseyside last month. Three members of the team will be making their European Cross Country Championship debuts on Sunday including Phoebe Law (Richard Holt), Georgina Outten (Baldaro) and Becky Straw (Baldaro), whilst 18 year olds Lydia Turner (Thomas Millmore) and Amy Griffiths (Woods) will look to improve on 13th and 47th respectively in Belgrade last year.

The junior men’s team is made up entirely of athletes making their first ever appearances for GB & NI at a European Cross Country Championships. The highest placed eligible athlete at the trials, Croydon Harriers’ Peter Chambers (Mike Fleet) will lead the team against the best athletes in Europe alongside Elliot Bowker (Andrew Carter), Jonathan Glen (Mark Pollard), Jac Hopkins (Kevin Tobin), Michael Vennard (Carter) and Kieran Wood (Mark Vile).

For full timetables and team lists, click here

The event will be shown live from 08:10 to 13:25 on the BBC Red Button on Sunday 14 December.