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UK Athletics

UK Cross Challenge Liverpool preview

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Cross Challenge

Following the UK Cross Challenge in Liverpool’s Sefton Park on Saturday 25 November, a record 32 places will be filled in the Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland team for the SPAR European Cross Country Championships to be staged in San Giorgio su Legnano, Italy, on Sunday 10 December.


The reason for the selectors having a bigger task than usual: there will be ‘demonstration’ races for Under 23s for the first time, as well as Seniors and Juniors, at the Europeans. The Seniors and Under 23s will run in combined trial races. The first three eligible Seniors will be automatically selected. The selectors will fill the remaining places on all known form up to and including Saturday. The first four eligible Juniors will be automatically selected.


Here is a guide to some of the main contenders at the Trials along with a reminder of which athletes have been pre-selected for the Europeans…


Senior Men’s 10km: Peter Riley (Leigh Harriers) was pre-selected after a convincing victory at the Birmingham UK Cross Challenge a month ago. The European 5000m champion Mo Farah (Newham and Essex Beagles), who won last year’s European Trial at Liverpool, will take in an international race in Dunkirk, France, on Sunday in an attempt to prove his fitness to the selectors after a successful period of training in South Africa with Chris Thompson (Aldershot, Farnham and District).


Thompson is in the Liverpool entry along with Nick McCormick (Morpeth Harriers), his fellow 5000m contestant at the summer’s European Championships; Steve Vernon (Stockport Harriers), fastest at this winter’s ECCA Relays at Mansfield; Mark Warmby (Newham and Essex Beagles), who is determined to retain the place he won in the Norwich Union GB team at this year’s World Cross, particularly after helping his club with both of this autumn’s road and cross country national relays; Frank Tickner (Wells City Harriers), English National silver medallist and BUSA champion last winter; Mike Skinner (Blackheath and Bromley), who has upped his training mileage successfully in recent months; Angus Maclean (Team Southampton), who sharpened-up with an impressive 4km victory at last weekend’s BMC Bristol Cross Country Classic; and Rob Whalley (Bristol and West AC), who has been a danger for more years than Europe has had cross country championships.


Dark horse? Whalley’s club mate Kevin Heywood, a farmer who trains on the cliffs of the north Cornwall coast, was fifth at Birmingham and looks stronger with each race.


Under 23s determined to make an impact among the Seniors include Andy Vernon (Aldershot, Farnham and District), silver medallist in last winter’s European Junior Men’s race, who was a strong third at Birmingham last month; Tom Humphries (Cannock and Stafford), who won by a huge margin at Uttoxeter at the start of this season to demonstrate he was over the back problems that haunted him 12 months ago; Ryan McLeod (Elswick Harriers), who placed 10th among the Seniors at Birmingham; Keith Gerrard (Newham and Essex Beagles), a former English National Junior Champion; Kelvin Hardy (Ipswich), whose highly respected coach Steve Benson has earned a place among the team management this winter; and James Ellis (Winchester and District), who led home the GB athletes in a recent race for the age group in the Netherlands.


Senior Women’s 6.5km: Hayley Yelling (Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow AC) and Jo Pavey (Exeter Harriers) are pre-selected, as befits the Champion and Bronze medallist of 2004, who have both demonstrated fine form recently. Yelling won at Birmingham – a record-breaking 18th Cross Challenge victory – while Pavey was third on her half marathon debut at the Great North Run and then won over 10 miles at the Great South in awful weather.


Now Pavey has had such a productive training spell at altitude in South Africa that she has decided to run in Liverpool – though she has a humorous vision of last year’s Trials winner, Liz Yelling (Bedford and County AC) doing a rain dance to make sure Sefton Park is a true test. Pavey explains: “The last time I turned up to race against her on the country, Liz was threatening to do a rain dance but she didn’t really have time to have any effect. This time, the forecast is for two days of rain so it’s going to be tough!” It’s not going to be a race between just the two of them, either, as competitors clamour to continue Norwich Union GB Senior Women’s great record of having medalled at every European Cross Country Championships since 2000.


Pavey and Yelling, who began this year as Commonwealth Games medallists in the 5000m and marathon respectively, are expected to face challenges at Liverpool from Kate Reed (Bristol and West AC), who was in last year’s Silver medal-winning team at the Europeans; Susan Partridge (City of Glasgow), who was a strong second at Birmingham; reigning Cross Challenge Champion Hatti Dean (Hallamshire Harriers Sheffield); Liverpool winner in 2004 Vicky Gill (Chorley Harriers); Gemma Phillips (Kendal AC), aiming to keep the Norwich Union GB place she earned at last winter’s Worlds; and steeplechaser Claire Martin (Telford AC), who is improving by the race; and Louise Damen (Poole RR), easing her way back from a series of injuries that would have flattened lesser talents.


Dark horse? Durham University student Felicity Milton is not 20 until next month, in her first winter of racing, but was second fastest to Hayley Yelling at the ECCA Relays and was equally swift in Edinburgh a fortnight ago.


Under 23s – in addition to Milton – who could get among the top Seniors include former junior internationals Dani Barnes (Newquay and Par AC), Faye Fullerton (Havering Mayesbrook AC), Laura Kenney (Royal Sutton Coldfield AC) and Hannah Whitmore (Charnwood AC). Aine Hoban (Wakefield and District Harriers) is not expected to race only five days after her impressive run into seventh place at the NCAA Championships in the USA – an effort that has been noted by the Norwich Union GB selectors.


Junior Men’s 6.5km: Inter-Counties Champion Lee Carey (Nuneaton Harriers) will be out to avenge defeat at Birmingham inflicted by Kevin Deighton (Bridlington Road Runners). Other dangers will include Welsh Champion Ieuan Thomas (Cwmbran Harriers), third at Birmingham; Jon Pepper (Enfield and Haringey AC), leader of the UK entry at an international meeting in the Netherlands recently; Tom Minshull (Trafford AC), who reached last year’s Europeans; Patrick Hambly (Torbay AC), fresh out of the Under 17s; and Under 17 Simon Horsfield (East Cheshire Harriers), who had a great summer on the track over 3000m.


Junior and Under 17 Women’s 4.8km: Sian Edwards (Kettering Town Harriers) is pre-selected having followed up her 10th place in this year’s World Cross Country Championships by convincingly winning the Birmingham Cross Challenge. Emily Pidgeon (Gloucester AC) – the only athlete to have registered Cross Challenge victories in every age group from Under 13 to Senior (and she’s still only 17) – will aim for her fourth Trial victory. The European Junior 5000m Champion and cross country silver medallist is expected to face a stiff test from Steph Twell (Aldershot, Farnham and District), another of the Gold medal-winning Norwich Union GB Junior Women’s team at last winter’s Europeans. The battle for the top places will be intense: for instance, Lucy Mayho (Bingley Harriers) finished 12th in the Junior and Under 17 Women’s race at Birmingham a month ago yet won a fortnight later in the Netherlands ahead of several of the athletes who had headed her in Sefton Park.


Dark horse? Charlotte Purdue (Aldershot, Farnham and District) is too young to earn selection for the Europeans – but that will not stop her striving to beat her elders. She was second to Edwards at Birmingham.


The earlier races in the younger age groups are also well supported at this meeting, which is run in conjunction with the Liverpool and District Cross Country League and the Mid-Lancs Cross Country League. In the Sefton Park entries are Birmingham Cross Challenge winners Zac Randall (Wycombe Phoenix) and Sarah Barker (Sale Harriers Manchester) in the Under 15s’ races and Mark Shaw (New Marske Harriers) and Emelia Gorecka (Aldershot, Farnham and District) in the Under 13s’ events.


And keep an eye open for the sprightlier Under 11s in the opening race. Sarah Aston (Manx Harriers) so enjoyed her run in this race last year that she travelled to Birmingham for last month’s Challenge – and took third place among the Under 13s. Ambitions start here!


A list of entries for the events can be downloaded from the link below.


More details of the meeting can be found in the Liverpool Cross Challenge Section.