Cold wintry conditions perfect for cross country championships

Two-time former European champion Fionnuala McCormack a notable absentee

 Fionnuala McCormack: has been  building up again for another crack at the European Cross Country title which she claimed  in 2011-12. Photograph:  Eoin Noonan/Sportsfile/Getty Images

Fionnuala McCormack: has been building up again for another crack at the European Cross Country title which she claimed in 2011-12. Photograph: Eoin Noonan/Sportsfile/Getty Images

 

A cold, blustery day with scattered wintry showers: Sunday’s forecast is perfect for cross country running and the large fields of runners assembling for the national championships at the purpose-built course at the Sport Ireland Campus at Abbotstown.

Perfect too as Sunday’s races at double as the Irish selection trail for next month’s European Cross Country in the Slovak town of Šamorín; with the last two championships staged on the Mediterranean coast, this year’s event returns to the colder climes of Central Europe.

The first two finishers in the men’s and women’s races on Sunday – senior and junior – are guaranteed the trip to Slovakia on December 10th. Fionnuala McCormack, the two-time former European champion, won’t be among them. McCormack has been slowly building up again for another crack at that title, which she won back-to-back in 2011-2012. Last year in Sardinia she finished fifth behind two Kenyan women, Yasemin Can and Meryem Akda, now running for Turkey, despite neither living nor even training there.

In 2015 she finish fourth, behind another African-born winner, describing that situation as a “joke” last summer, and after finishing fifth last year, suggested both women had moved to Turkey “for the craic”, if only because the rules allowed them to.

The IAAF has since put on freeze on all transfer of nationalities until various loopholes are closed, although that comes too late for McCormack. Early indications are both Can and Akda will be running again in Šamorín, although McCormack, now 33, hasn’t given up on the quest to regain the title in what will be her 15th European cross country, including junior and under-23 races.

Earlier this month McCormack finished fifth at the Cross de Atapuerca in Burgos, the top European on the day, beating British athlete Steff Twell by a single place.

Wide open

In the meantime Sunday’s races are hard to call. Shona Heaslip from An Riocht in Kerry is the favourite to defend the title won last year, but there’s competition from plenty of Olympians, including Rio steeplechaser Kerry O’Flaherty (Newcastle & District).

London 2012 marathon runner Linda Byrne is also back competing after a difficult post-Olympic experience and is part of a strong Dundrum South Dublin team which includes Bethanie Murray and Maria McCambridge.

The Leevale team includes the Finn sisters, Michelle and Carol, and Lizzie Lee, the 2016 Rio marathon runner also back in competitive mode, plus Claire McCarthy, who ran the marathon at the London World Champions in August.

The men’s race looks wide open, especially with Dublin champion Mick Clohisey of Raheny Shamrock set to miss out through injury. Adam Kirk-Smith of Derry Track Club has been in fine form, with Paul Pollock of Annadale Striders another contender, along with the Dooney brothers, Kevin and Conor, of Raheny Shamrock.

Clonliffe Harriers have dominated this event in recent years and have a big squad listed including the top three national medallists at last month’s Dublin Marathon – Gary O’Hanlon, Sergiu Ciobanu and Stephen Scullion.

The eight underage races start from 11.30am, with the senior women (8,000m) off at 1.45, and the senior men (10,000m) off at 2.25. The full Irish teams for Slovakia will be announced on Monday.

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