21 January 2010
2009 European Cross Country champion Hayley Yelling-Higham (Windsor, Slough, Eton & Hounslow) is Great Britain & Northern Ireland's leading lady heading into the penultimate round of the 2009/10 McCain UK Cross Challenge series, the Antrim International Cross Country, at Greenmount Campus on Saturday 23 January.
Yelling-Higham, the overall Challenge winner back in 2004/05, has the opportunity to make it two wins from two starts in the McCain series and lines up against Ireland’s 2009 European Indoor Championships 3000m bronze medallist Mary Cullen, in one of the strongest women’s fields ever seen at the IAAF Permit event.
Hungary’s Aniko Kalovics, who was sidelined by injury in the latter half of 2009 before her comeback victory in the Campaccio International Cross Country in early January 2010, will undoubtedly lead the overall international title challenge. But the battle for UK Cross Challenge points will come from European Cross Country Championships senior team medallists Katrina Wootton (Bedford & County) and Laura Kenney (Royal Sutton Coldfield) and under-23 individual bronze medallist Jessica Sparke (Woodford Green & Essex Ladies).
Sparke, seventh in the BUPA Great Edinburgh International Cross Country on 9 January behind Yelling-Higham in fourth, has been impressive throughout the winter; kick started by a third place finish in the European Cross country trials, round two of the McCain series.
The women’s elite field also includes Portugal’s marathon specialist Analia Rosa and USA’s Delilah DiCrescenzo, 22ndand 33rd in the 2009 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Amman, Jordan.
2009 Inter Counties champion and overall McCain UK Cross Challenge series winner Andy Vernon (Aldershot, Farnham & District) will have to work hard for victory in a high quality senior men’s elite field, which includes Mexico’s 2008 Olympic 5000m finalist Juan Luis Barrios, Kenya’s sub-13 minute 5000m runner Mike Kigen and Portugal’s Ricardo Ribas.
Vernon’s GB & NI team mates Mike Skinner, who finished one place behind him at the 2009 European Cross Country Championships, and Mitch Goose, fifth in the under-23 event, will provide tough domestic opposition along with UK-based Tsegei Tewelde (Shettleston Harriers).
Key names in the junior races include European Youth Olympic Festival 3000m gold medallist Callum Hawkins (Kilbarchan AAC), Ross Matheson (Lasswade AAC) and Dewi Griffiths (Carmarthen Harriers), who will compete in the Celtic Cross Country incorporated within the race programme, in addition to Aldershot Farnham & District’s Johnny Hay.
Griffiths and Hay finished second and third respectively in Cardiff (junior men) while Matheson, unbeaten over cross country since early 2009 as an under-17, was victorious in Cardiff and steps up an age group for the first time to represent his country.
Of those GB & NI athletes who were victorious in Antrim 12 months ago, only Giffnock North’s Grant Muir, the 2009 under-15 champion, lines up on this occasion in the under 17 age group.
The race programme starts at 11am with the senior men’s and women’s races going off at 2.10pm and 2.45pm respectively.