Women's gold medal elite unsure about world championships
ATHLETICS: Cross CountryNot for the first time there appears to be some confusion over who exactly is running the elite end of Irish athletics, as all four members of the women’s gold medal winning team at last month’s European Cross Country admit their continued uncertainty about the World Cross Country.
Fionnuala Britton, we know, has always been targeting the event, which has now gone biennial, and set for Bydgoszcz, in Poland, on March 24th. The two-time European champion has also indicated her preference for an Irish women’s team to compete along with her, especially after all four also won European team gold in Budapest last month.
Yet the other three members of that winning quartet – Linda Byrne, Ava Hutchinson and Lizzie Lee – aren’t so sure, partly because Athletics Ireland has yet to declare its exact selection policy, and partly too because there hasn’t been any direct team planning towards the event.
Speaking at the launch of the 2013 Great Ireland Run – in which all four athletes intend competing – they outlined their thoughts about the World Cross Country. While it would be encouraging to send the strongest possible team, some of them have to consider their individual ambitions for the rest of the year, namely in the marathon.
“I suppose I landed people in this, by saying I would love to have an Irish women’s team going to Poland as well,” said Britton. “But it is about planning too, and probably something we should have thought about more in advance. I know people are moving back towards marathon training, but it can be done, combining it with the World Cross Country. It certainly worked for Paula Radcliffe in the past. But it does have to be planned in advance. Because for the European Cross Country we were planning from last summer, really, to get the team together. So it is a bit late to start landing into that now.”
Byrne, Hutchinson and Lee, despite their success in Budapest, are effectively now marathon specialists. And all three are targeting the 26.2-mile distance before the year is out – Lee probably this spring, Byrne and Hutchinson in the autumn.
“Personally, anyway, I am training towards a marathon now,” said Lee, “and would have wonder what is to be gained by the World Cross Country, and if, as a team, we’re really competitive at that level yet. If there was any real campaign to send a team then that might be different, but in fairness it would have to come from both sides, the athletes, and not just Athletics Ireland. But then it hasn’t been ruled out, either.
Strongest possible team
“Going to the European Cross Country, we knew we had a shot at a medal. But you have to remember as well that three of the four of us are marathon runners now, really, and that’s something we also have to focus on . . . And my goal for this year to try to qualify for the World Championships, in Moscow.”
Byrne essentially agreed: “I think if Athletics Ireland was to send the strongest possible team then yes, but just for me, I don’t see any great benefit, just to go there. But then we were never really thinking about it either and it probably is a bit late now to try to get everyone focused.”
Hutchinson seemed to have a more open mind about it and intends running the National Inter-club cross country next month. “Nothing has been confirmed,” she said.
Part of the problem is the gap between the European Cross Country, in early December, and the World Cross Country, at the end of March, as some athletes don’t want to extend their cross-country season that long.
Athletics Ireland high performance director Kevin Ankrom said earlier this week that he was “supportive of sending a team” but that he wasn’t “seeing that collectively at the moment from the athletes”.
Yet Lee also pointed out the apparent lack of a proper World Cross Country trial, or selection policy: “It has to be advertised, so athletes know exactly who’s being selected.”
What is certain is that Britton is intent on being competitive in Bydgoszcz, and that the Irish women’s team could be competitive too. “It’s the World Cross Country, it’s not supposed to be easy. If anything it should motivate you to be that bit better, to compete up there with the very best.”
Entry to the Great Ireland Run, set for April 14th, can be made through www.greatirelandrun.org