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Hayley Yelling

24 November 2010

European champion Hayley Yelling-Higham (coach: Conrad Milton) will take the first steps towards the defence of her title at the McCain Liverpool Cross Challenge incorporating the European Cross Country Trials at Sefton Park, Liverpool this weekend (Saturday 27 November), in the first major head-to-head of the domestic cross country season.

Yelling-Higham, who took the surprise victory in 2009 following a premature retirement, will return to cross country action in Liverpool alongside her sister-in-law Liz Yelling (coach: Alex Stanton) who has also raced back into form in the past 12 months after having her first child; she recorded 2:37:15 in the Chicago Marathon in October.

Jessica Sparke (coach: Mick Woods), European Cross Country under-23 bronze medallist a year ago, will be aiming to better her third place finish in last year’s trial while Charnwood’s Gemma Steel (coach: Roy Stowell), who posted an impressive 10 mile PB in the Great South Run last month, is one of the form athletes. European Championships track finalists Hatti Dean (coach: Bud Baldaro) and Lisa Dobriskey (coach: George Gandy) are also expected to start.

The senior women’s field will be without last year’s runner-up Freya Murray (coach: Steve Jones) and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Steph Twell (coach: Mick Woods). However, while Twell is focusing on her training and wishes to be considered for selection onto the Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland team for the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Albufeira, Portugal on 12 December, Murray, who is injured, has ruled herself out.

The first three eligible seniors will be selected automatically.

Among the main under-23 contenders in Liverpool are 2008 European Cross Country junior bronze medallist Lauren Howarth (coach: Bud Baldaro), Emma Pallant (coach: Mick Woods), second fastest in the English National Cross Country Relays, Stevie Stockton (coach: George Gandy) who has been training at the UKA/LM altitude camp in Kenya, Scottish Universities champion Elspeth Curran (coach: Lawrie Spence) and Emily Pidgeon (coach: Andy Hobdell). Natalie Gray (coach: Bill Foster/Joe Franklin), the first British female home in Monday’s NCAA Cross Country Championships in 15th - less than half a minute behind the winner - won’t return for the Trials. The first three eligible under-23s in the senior/under-23 combined race will be selected automatically.

Lee Carey (coach: Ray Treacy), also an under-23, was the first British male in the NCAAs in 24th, with junior Tom Farrell (coach: Dave Smith) three seconds behind in 29th position. All NCAA performances by British athletes eligible for selection for the European Cross Country Championships will be considered when selectors meet on Monday 29 November.

Mitch Goose (coach: Tim/Pauline Ash), 65th in the NCAAs, will return to the UK to race in Liverpool and will battle it out for an under-23 team spot against 2009 European junior cross country individual medallists Nick Goolab (coach: Steve Sharp) and James Wilkinson (coach: Phil Townsend) who finished second and third respectively in Dublin in 2009, however, the more exciting battle could be between Goose and his former club mate Ashley Harrell (coach: Tim/Pauline Ash) who finished two seconds apart 12 months ago.

The senior men’s race is potentially wide open as Ryan McLeod (coach: John Nuttall) and John Beattie (coach: John Nuttall) return from Kenya to face Scott Overall (coach: Robert Chapman), winner of last weekend’s Corta Mato Cidade De Amora Cross International in Portugal and defending McCain UK Cross Challenge champion Andy Vernon (coach: Nick Anderson).

Mark Draper (coach: Andy Hobdell) and Frank Tickner (coach: Clive Thomas), the two fastest in the English Cross Country Relays, are also expected to start, and for Tickner in particular this represents a welcome return to high-class competition following a frustrating period with injury since his tenth place finish in the European Cross Country Championships in Brussels in 2008. Mike Skinner (coach: Andy Hobdell), a European Cross team medallist for the past two years, will also be in the mix.

Included in the junior entries is European Cross Country bronze medallist Kate Avery (coach: Bob Ashwood), who is joined on the start list by a further two of the silver medal winning team quartet from Dublin in 2009: Beth Potter (coach: John Nuttall) and Eleanor Wimshurst (coach: Nick Rose).

While Avery and Potter have both just returned from a solid period of training at altitude, the favourite for the junior title is without doubt Aldershot’s UK junior 10000m record holder and Commonwealth Games representative Charlotte Purdue (coach: Mick Woods) who has focused her attention on selection and success in Portugal since her return from Delhi.

Adding to Aldershot’s talented pool of potential winners, Emelia Gorecka (coach: Mick Woods) will also be in contention as she targets her first ever Europe Cross Country Championships, while under-17 Jessica Judd (coach: Jeremy Freeman), although too young to be selected for Portugal, posted the quickest lap time at the National Cross Country Relays and will undoubtedly be in the mix for a McCain UK Cross Challenge podium place.

In the men’s race – which will have one of the largest fields of the day across the age-groups – the diminutive but impressive Jonny Hay (coach: Mick Woods) will lead the charge for selection as the first three eligible under-20s earn automatic spots on the Aviva GB & NI team.

He’ll be joined on the start line by Stroud’s Tom Curr (coach: Chris Frapwell), winner of last weekend’s BMC Cross Country Classic, and Ronnie Sparke (coach: Richard Thurston), first British junior home in March’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships.

Scotland’s Ross Matheson (coach: Dave Campbell), last year’s McCain UK Cross Challenge winner (under-17), will step up to under-20 with high expectations, while St Mary’s-based John McDonnell (coach: John Stoker) could be one to watch - the Luton athlete recorded the fastest leg of the day at the English relays.

Richard Goodman (coach: Geoff Williams), who has been injured and has only recently resumed training, has ruled himself out of selection.

Elsewhere, 2009 McCain UK Cross Challenge (under-15) winners Ben Westhenry and Abbie Hetherington start the defence of their series titles.

Follow our live updates from Sefton Park on Twitter.

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

The selection policy can be read in full at: http://uka.org.uk/world-class/winter-selection-policy-2010-11/