British trials at Sefton Park on Saturday for the European Cross Country Champs in Turin feature strong entries
Many of Britain’s leading distance runners will descend on Sefton Park in Liverpool on Saturday (Nov 26) for the British trials for next month’s European Cross Country Championships in Turin, Italy. Olympians Marc Scott and Jess Warner-Judd lead the entries in the senior races with in-form Emile Cairess another stand-out name on the start lists. The junior races will also be hotly contested while the short-course relay trials include 800m talent Max Burgin.
The trials for the Euro Cross and February’s European Clubs Championships aside, the senior races include runners from the Liverpool & District, Red Rose and Mid Lancs cross country leagues. All of which means it is easily the busiest and most competitive domestic cross-country meeting of the winter so far on a relatively flat course that is likely to be greasy in places due to this month’s persistent rain.
Scott the frontrunner in men’s race
Marc Scott has not raced cross-country since the autumn of 2019 when he won the Cardiff Cross Challenge. Since then he has posted 5000m and 10,000m times of 12:57.08 and 27:10.41 that place him No.2 on the UK all-time rankings behind Mo Farah.
Earlier this year he won 3000m bronze at the World Indoor Championships as well and, after being based in the US for many years, he is now back in the UK and warmed up for Liverpool by winning a Tracksmith Surrey League race in Wimbledon this month.
Better known for his track and road exploits (among other things he won the Great North Run in 2021) Scott should have no problem adapting to the ground as he won the English Schools fell running title as a teenager. What’s more he was ninth in the Euro Cross in Tilburg in 2018 and fourth in the under-23 race in Hyères in 2015.
Not only will Scott be aiming to make the team but he will be looking to improve on those positions at the Euro Cross itself on December 11 in Turin.
Cairess is another runner with unfinished business at the Euro Cross. He was 60th at the 2019 event in Lisbon in the under-23 race but has since set a UK 10km record of 27:43 and last month improved his half-marathon PB to 60:32 in Valencia.
The Leeds City runner also began this winter by finishing first Brit home at the Cardiff Cross Challenge where, on that occasion, he finished ahead of Mahamed and Zak Mahamed.
Don’t discount the Mahamed brothers in Liverpool, though. Mahamed Mahamed won the English National title last winter and then won the men’s race at Milton Keynes Cross Challenge this month, while his younger brother was just six seconds behind him at Milton Keynes and, aged 21, will be one of the athletes aiming to make the GB under-23 team for Turin.
Ben Connor won the men’s race in Liverpool in 2017 and is among a number of contenders hoping to make their mark. Jonny Davies won the under-23 European title ahead of Scott in 2015 and returns to Liverpool this weekend hoping to make the senior team.
Hugo Milner’s main sport right now is triathlon but he was fourth in Milton Keynes this month and cannot be discounted. Look out for Alex George, too, who was third in Milton Keynes.
The 2021 trials winner Jack Rowe will also surely be a factor, plus the improving Callum Elson, miler Matt Stonier and Rory Leonard – the latter of whom finished 32nd in the NCAA division one championships race last weekend in Oklahoma.
The winner that day, Charles Hicks, is not entered for the trials but don’t be surprised to see him included in the GB team as he is the reigning European under-23 champion from Dublin last year.
Warner-Judd leads women’s fields
Twelve months ago Jess Warner-Judd won the trial in Liverpool and led Britain to team gold when she finished fourth in Dublin.
Since then Warner-Judd has enjoyed a busy period with major track championships in Eugene, Birmingham and Munich (not to mention her wedding this autumn) and on Saturday she is joined by her gold medal-winning team-mates from Dublin – Jenny Nesbitt, Jess Gibbon and Abbie Donnelly.
All of them will be looking to make the team again for Turin but there are a number of other contenders in the reckoning. They include Steph Twell, a former under-20 individual and multiple team gold medallist at the Euro Cross, world universities champion Izzy Fry and European indoor 3000m champion Amy-Eloise Markovc.
Can Gemma Steel, the 2014 European cross-country champion, turn back the clock aged 37? She has looked in good form in recent races but might find her younger rivals have a little too much pace.
Megan Keith, the reigning European under-20 cross-country champion, will be one of the frontrunners for a place in the under-23 team for Turin.
Alexandra Millard, meanwhile, comes into the event in great form as winner in Milton Keynes this month ahead of Grace Carson, Gibbon, Cari Hughes and Eloise Walker.
In a race packed with quality, there is also Lily Partridge, as she steps down from the marathon to the country this winter, middle-distance runner Melissa Courtney-Bryant, plus former Inter-Counties winner Charlotte Dannatt and also one of the breakthrough stars on the track and road recently, Samantha Harrison.
Nuttall among reigning relay winners to return
At the Euro Cross last year the British quartet of Hannah Nuttall, Luke Duffy, Alex Bell and Ben West struck gold and with the exception of Bell they all return to tackle the trials on Saturday.
In addition to the trio of gold medallists from 12 months ago, there is also Sarah McDonald, Revee Walcott-Nolan, Jenny Selman, Erin Wallace and Sabrina Sinha among others in the women’s race.
The men’s race, meanwhile, features Archie Davis, Charlie Grice and 800m runners Burgin and Jamie Webb.
Junior trials clashes
An intriguing junior women’s trial could be won by an under-17, Innes Fitzgerald, if she reproduces the same kind of form she showed at the Cardiff Cross Challenge and Mini London Marathon in October.
The 16-year-old broke Jess Warner-Judd’s UK under-17 3000m record by nine seconds in July and she won the under-20 race in Cardiff last month by 15 seconds from Zoe Gilbody and Jess Bailey, both of whom are also still under-17 athletes.
Bailey has since gone on to win the world mountain running title in Thailand so will be arriving in Liverpool full of confidence as the runners tackle the combined under-17 and under-20 race.
Rebecca Flaherty, who took silver in the same race in Thailand, is also due to compete and is among a number of under-20 athletes keen to make the team. Others include Milton Keynes winner Alice Bates, Kiya Dee, Iris Downes and Bea Wood.
Last year Will Barnicoat led the GB under-20 men’s team to gold in Dublin and he returns to the trials this weekend.
Joining him are Luke Birdseye and Ed Bird, winners of the recent Cross Challenge meetings in Milton Keynes and Cardiff respectively, plus national 3000m champion and Mini London Marathon winner Henry Dover.
Henry McLuckie and Osian Perrin, who were part of the winning junior team 12 months ago in Dublin, are back again, the latter after an injury-hit summer.
Watch out too for Rowan Miell-Ingram and Matt Ramsden.
Euro Cross – the winter highlight for Brits
It is now around 20 years since UK Athletics stated controversially that the Euro Cross would be the No.1 goal during the winter ahead of the World Cross.
True to their word, the Euro trials event has grown in stature and the main championships in early to mid December has been supported by big teams.
The same has not been the case for the World Cross, though, and this winter it again looks unlikely to feature full British teams.
Recently-published selection guidance says that teams of just four athletes will be picked for each race and, in the case of the senior races, only if there is deemed a reasonable chance of a top 40 placing.
With the event held in Bathurst, Australia, in February it means that a number of leading senior British athletes may not fancy the trip anyway due to the interruptions to training, jet-lag and prospect of finishing some distance behind the top Ethiopian, Kenyan and Ugandan runners.
All of which means the Euro Cross next month is likely to be the biggest international opportunity for most British cross-country runners this winter.
Trials timetable – Saturday November 26
10.30am Men’s relay trial (1.5km)
10.35am Women’s relay trial (1.5km)
10.45am U11 boys (2km)
10.55am U11 girls (2km)
11.05am U13 girls (3km)
11.20am U13 boys (3km)
11.35am U15 boys (3km)
11.50am U15 girls (3km)
12.05pm U17/20 women (4.4km)
12.25pm U17 men (5.5km)
12.45pm U20 men (6.7km)
1.05pm Senior women (8.1km)
2.05pm Senior men (9.8km)
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