Hard to see in-form Britton losing this one

 

ATHLETICS:Given her utterly commanding form, and the nature of the opposition, it would actually prove something of a disappointment if Fionnuala Britton doesn’t run away again with this afternoon’s Antrim International Cross Country – although that’s not saying there aren’t bigger challenges ahead.

Already, it seems, Britton’s focus is firmly on the World Cross Country Championships, which have now gone biennial, and set for Bydgoszcz, in Poland, on March 24th.

With that in mind, and perhaps surprising to some, Britton has therefore lined up a number of indoor races, starting with Karlrushe in Germany on February 2nd, the British Athletics Grand Prix in Birmingham, February 16th and possibly the European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg on March 1st-3rd.

It would be something of a new venture for Britton, yet plenty of athletes have successfully used the indoor season as preparation for the World Cross Country, given the fiercely fast, competitive nature of that race, and that’s the exact thinking behind the decision of Britton and her coach, Chris Jones.

“We are looking to go indoors,” said Jones, “the main reason being the World Cross Country is such a fast race, when you throw in all the Kenyans and Ethiopians, and you just have to be capable of running with them for the first 2km or so, stay in contact. It could be a mud bath in Poland, we don’t know, but you still need to have the ability to go with the pace.

Convincing victory

“So she’ll run some 3,000m races indoors, see how they go, and if she qualifies for the European Indoors then she probably will run those too. That’s really what she’ll be looking for, a high quality race, just three weeks out from the World Cross Country.”

Still fresh, it seems, from her convincing victory – by 16 seconds – at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country last Saturday, Britton will face similar opposition in Antrim this afternoon, on the same Greenmount course where she also won last year, the main difference being the addition of two Kenyan women, Eunice Kales and Magdalene Masai.

Kales, however, is more or a half marathon specialist, and unlikely to stay with Britton, and Masai doesn’t come with great cross country credentials either.

But they’re sure to be in the hunt, along with Britton’s team-mate Linda Byrne, who finished an excellent sixth in Edinburgh, and with Stockport’s Jessica Coulson, the only one who managed to stay, for a while, with Britton last Saturday, also back for another crack.

High-calibre

“Last Saturday was a very high-calibre race, with lots of athletes in form,” added Jones. “But no one was willing to take up the running, so she just found herself in front, really, and took it from there.”

Jones is also confident an Irish women’s team can perform at the World Cross Country, although it remains to be seen if Athletics Ireland agree.

Britton has had two top-20 finishes in the event, an excellent 14th when Kenya played host, in Mombasa, back in 2007, and she also finished 16th in the last edition of the championships, in Punta Umbria, Spain, in 2011 – and Jones admits that’s where her overall progress this season will be judged.

“Whether it’s top 10,” he says, “or first non-African, she’s got to keep improving, has got to be competitive there as well. It is probably the most competitive race in the world. I’m not saying she’s in a medal zone, or anything like that, but if she can progress, maybe make the top 10, then for sure that will be part of the progression.”

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