18th March 2011

Purdue And Gorecka Aim High

18 March 2011

Tradition points to greater success for Britain’s women than their male counterparts at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, and for the Aviva GB&NI team at this year’s edition of the event in Punta Umbria, Spain this Sunday (20 March), that trend looks set to continue.

European junior cross country champion Charlotte Purdue (coach: Mick Woods) – the youngest winner of the UK Inter Counties senior title in 20 years when she dominated the World Cross Trial event a fortnight ago – leads the senior women this weekend with realistic expectations to finish inside the top 20.

She made her World Cross Country debut in Mombasa, Kenya in 2007, an event in which many athletes suffered due to the intense heat, but showed her strength and determination, attributes for which she’s now well known, to finish first British junior in 15th. She went on to finish 16th 12 months later in Edinburgh and maintained that consistency when finishing 14th in Jordan in 2009.

Now a senior, both she and her coach Mick Woods – who has eight athletes in this year’s Aviva GB&NI team – believe that she can match those performances when she steps up an age group on the global cross country stage.

“Charlie hasn’t really been pushed this year,” admits Woods, who has coached at least one athlete in every World Cross since 1996; “she hasn’t really had the opportunity to race against real competition. She won the European Trial and the European Cross and then won in Antrim, Cardiff, BUCS Cross Country and the World Cross Trial. The only place she didn’t win was in Edinburgh, but she had a brilliant run against excellent international opposition.

“She’s a different athlete to when she finished 15th in Mombasa,” he continues. “She’s matured, she’s on a senior mileage and she’s totally prepared, our target has always been to run well at the World Cross and she’s tapered right down, but now she’s up against top class opposition. The race will go off fast, but once it settles down and starts to unfold she’ll move forward.

“The big problem with running World Cross is that it goes off so hard at the start and quite often the Brits get left behind, but if you can ride out the early pace you can pick people off and start to make an impact. If Charlie can get in the mix in the top 25-30 during the race she can possibly push forward to a good position inside the top 20; she’s got good aerobic ability but can she move through solidly and hopefully it can be her best run of the year.”

Such expectations are realistic and entirely justified, but even Purdue will find it tough to match the performances of Hatti Dean (coach: Bud Baldaro) and Liz Yelling who placed 15th in 2007 and 2008 respectively – the best placed British senior women since Kathy Butler’s impressive 11th place finish in 2004, the same year, incidentally, that the Aviva GB&NI team recorded it’s only team podium finish in the past ten years, in third.

The senior women have, however, finished inside the top ten teams in every edition of the World Cross for the past decade, a statistic only run close by the junior women who haven’t finished lower than fifth in recent years.

Purdue’s Aldershot, Farnham and District team mate Emelia Gorecka (coach: Mick Woods) leads the junior women’s charge on what is expected to be a fast, flat course in Spain.

Having finished 23rd on her international debut in Bydgoszcz a year ago, the 17-year-old European junior cross country bronze medallist has continued her exciting progression over the past year, most recently with victory in the McCain UK Cross Challenge Final and World Cross Trial. 

“She’s transitioning as an athlete and her development in the last 12 months has always had the focus of doing well at World Cross,” says her coach Mick Woods.

“She’s built on her aerobic capacity, and apart from racing against Charlie (Charlotte Purdue), she’s been really dominant. Her confidence from running well last year points to her running even better this year, although at junior level, being a year older doesn’t make much of a difference – there are always good juniors coming through – what makes the difference is improving yourself as an athlete and that’s what we’ve really focused on. That’s what can make an impact on some of the Africans and can give you a bit of a chance of getting in amongst them.”

The full Aviva GB&NI team can be found through the following link.

The IAAF World Cross Country Championships commence with the junior women’s 6km race at 11.30am on Sunday 20 March (GMT +1).

Follow UKA’s Twitter feed for live updates throughout the event with a full event report to follow on this website.

A one hour highlights programme will be shown on Channel 4 on Saturday 26 March at 06:35.