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UK Athletics

World Cross Country Review

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7 April 2008


Column by Alan Storey as seen in Athletics Weekly magazine 


The World Cross Country Championships are an important event for our endurance athletes and it is useful and important to look back at last Sunday’s performances by the Norwich Union Great Britain & Northern Ireland team.


Many countries, including our own, were a few athletes short in Edinburgh and that it only to be expected in Olympic year, and with the Marathon season approaching fast. In our case, that was bought into greater focus simply because the Championships were on home soil, but we had some very encouraging performances.


Much has been made about some of our leading female endurance athletes not being in Edinburgh, but it was an encouraging team performance and they acquitted themselves very well.


In a way it was a shame that the senior women’s race was not the first of the afternoon, as it would have set the tone for the way the Brits approached the races.


Despite being underdogs the Yellings were as determined and defiant as ever and it was a great sight to see them leading the field and pushing hard so early in the race.


Liz lead by example on and off the course and even turned down the prospect of a haggis supper and a Céilidh at the banquet on Sunday evening to prepare and focus on the Flora London Marathon next week. I am sure a number of the juniors would have learned from Liz’s dedication and attitude.


We currently have a wealth of talent in the junior women’s ranks and this tremendous crop of youngsters ran well in the Holyrood mud. Even without a couple of our star performers, the team proved that by finishing fourth we are in a very good position by world standards and the future looks bright if we can develop the girls through to the seniors.


Lead by Charlotte Purdue’s 16th position, the juniors confirmed their position as the leading European nation, but being the best on the Continent is not our goal as we aim to get among the Africans.


It is true that in men’s endurance events we are not the force we once were and we need to take a look at how we can get more athletes into the sport and through to the top level, rather than tinker with the training and approach of those we already have.


Missing Mo Farah – who came 11th last year, 10th if you don’t count those who ran a lap short - saw the senior men finish 11th. I think that is a fair reflection of our current world standing and with Mo in the team we would have probably made it into the top ten with a ninth place finish. We have a young senior team that will hopefully develop over the course of the next few years.


I’m sure the boys in the junior squad will be pleased to be the first Europeans home, with a good run from David Forrester. As with all four teams, they have to measure themselves against the best in the world and not just Europe and 9th consolidates where we are in that age group.


The African dominance in World Cross Country is obvious, and is currently something the IAAF is considering, but it is clear the Championships have changed hugely over the last 20 years when we enjoyed repeat successes.


It seems unlikely there will be a return to those halcyon days for non-African countries any time soon, but Australia and the USA have proved you can narrow the gap and get closer to the Kenyans and Ethiopians with the right focus and support.