Melissa Court­ney plans to end year in style

WELSH RUN­NER GOES TO TIL­BURG IN GOOD FORM AT END OF BRIL­LIANT 12 MONTHS

Athletics Weekly - - Contents - WORDS: EUAN CRUM­LEY PIC­TURES: MARK SHEARMAN

MELISSA COURT­NEY hopes to bring to an end her su­perb break­through year in style with a good run at the Euro­pean Cross Coun­try Cham­pi­onships in Til­burg on Sun­day.

The 25-year-old only de­cided to run last month’s Bri­tish tri­als in Liver­pool about two weeks be­fore the race, but it paid off as she fin­ished fourth in a high­qual­ity women’s field.

“Cross coun­try wasn’t a big part of my plans,” she says, “but train­ing was go­ing well and I felt so good.”

This time last year she was part of the gold medal-win­ning mixed re­lay team at the Euro Cross in Samorin. Now, in the Nether­lands this week­end, she runs the se­nior women’s race as part of a strong GB team which will be aim­ing to make its usual im­pact.

It comes at the end of a year that saw her win 1500m bronze at the Com­mon­wealth Games in Aus­tralia in a 4:03.44 PB be­fore later fin­ish­ing fifth in the Euro­pean 5000m in Berlin in a Welsh record 15:04.75.

Court­ney also set a Welsh record at 3000m with 8:39.20 dur­ing a long but re­ward­ing sea­son. “The Com­mon­wealth Games was def­i­nitely the high­light,” she says. “It was my first ma­jor medal and some­thing to re­mem­ber.”

She also en­joyed the chal­lenge of com­bin­ing 1500m and 5000m. “The longer dis­tance is all about grind­ing it out and feel­ing un­com­fort­able,” she ex­plains. “I en­joyed rac­ing 5km, though. My mind­set has al­ways been quite gutsy and I do some big ses­sions with my coach to pre­pare for it.”

Her coach, Rob Den­mark, cer­tainly knows about rac­ing 5000m – he won the Com­mon­wealth ti­tle in 1994. So far this win­ter Court­ney has been train­ing with Den­mark in Lough­bor­ough – and at the same track as her fi­ancé, the Bri­tish de­cath­lete Ash­ley Bryant.

She says it’s the long­est pe­riod she’s spent at home all year after globe-trot­ting to Aus­tralia, Kenya, South Africa, Switzer­land and else­where dur­ing a hec­tic 12 months.

But the trav­el­ling will soon start again be­cause she’s due to go alti­tude train­ing in Kenya in Jan­uary fol­lowed by an in­door sea­son tar­get­ing 3000m and then a sum­mer of 1500m and 5000m rac­ing with the IAAF World Cham­pi­onships in Doha the big tar­get.

THE res­i­dents of Beekse Ber­gen

Sa­fari Park on the out­skirts of Til­burg will be ac­cus­tomed to large vol­umes of peo­ple ar­riv­ing on the premises. How­ever, they might not be quite so used to the speed at which this par­tic­u­lar group of vis­i­tors will be nav­i­gat­ing their way around a course which sits next to the com­plex this week­end.

That’s be­cause this Dutch tourist at­trac­tion in the south of the coun­try pro­vides the quirky venue for the 25th

Spar Euro­pean Cross Coun­try Cham­pi­onships, with some of the con­ti­nent’s finest ath­letes bat­tling it out for hon­ours on a course which, al­though largely flat, looks like pro­vid­ing at least a lit­tle more of an authen­tic cross coun­try test than what was es­sen­tially a grass track in Chia, Sar­dinia, two years ago and last year’s firm-go­ing race­course of Samorin, Slo­vakia.

Til­burg also hosted these cham­pi­onships in 2005 but at a dif­fer­ent venue and also at a time when there were just four in­di­vid­ual races – the men’s and women’s un­der-20 and se­nior races – be­ing con­tested.

The un­der-23 events have since been added while the mixed re­lay, first staged 12 months ago, re­turns in 2018.

There are no fewer than 616 ath­letes from 38 coun­tries to be found on the en­try lists, in­clud­ing a 40-strong Great Bri­tain squad which will be look­ing to con­tinue the na­tion’s lengthy pe­riod of high achieve­ment when it comes to these cham­pi­onships.

The Bri­tish team has been top of the medal ta­ble on 11 of the past 12 oc­ca­sions, while Samorin saw the women’s se­nior, un­der-23 and un­der-20 sides all cap­ture team gold.

There was vic­tory in the mixed re­lay, too, while Har­riet KnowlesJones won a mem­o­rable in­di­vid­ual un­der-20 gold and An­drew Butchart grabbed the first in­di­vid­ual Euro­pean Cross hon­our of his ca­reer with se­nior men’s bronze.

Nei­ther will be com­pet­ing this time around, ill­ness and in­jury hav­ing af­fected both since, and there is in­deed a very dif­fer­ent look to this Bri­tish team which fea­tures strength in depth, plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence, a few new faces and a num­ber of im­pres­sive come­backs from in­jury.

Se­nior women

The Bri­tish line-up have some in­spi­ra­tional sto­ries to tell.

Seven-time Euro­pean Cross medal­list Kate Avery leads the side and has been en­joy­ing a re­turn to form, hav­ing strug­gled with in­juries which in­cluded stress frac­tures since win­ning

the sec­ond of her two in­di­vid­ual sil­vers at these cham­pi­onships in 2015.

Tri­als win­ner Char­lotte Arter has also over­come in­jury strug­gles to make the start line, just weeks be­fore she of­fi­cially be­comes a full-time ath­lete.

Jess Pi­asecki, third in Liver­pool and com­pet­ing at the Euro­pean Cross for the first time since win­ning in­di­vid­ual gold and team sil­ver in 2012 as an un­der-23, con­tin­ues her come­back fol­low­ing prob­lems with in­juries re­lated to RED-S (rel­a­tive en­ergy de­fi­ciency in sport).

Ver­ity Ock­enden was sec­ond at the tri­als and has bounced back from a cy­cling ac­ci­dent ear­lier this year, which stopped her run­ning for a num­ber of weeks to take her place, while 2016 team sil­ver medal­list Pippa Wool­ven and 2017 mixed re­lay gold medal­list Melissa Court­ney, a Com­mon­wealth 1500m bronze medal­list for Wales ear­lier this year and in­ter­viewed on page 6, com­plete the side.

Turkey’s Yasemin Can will be go­ing for a hat-trick of ti­tles and, with Dutch star Si­fan Has­san hav­ing with­drawn from com­pet­ing through ill­ness, home hopes will fall on former un­der-23 cham­pion Su­san Kru­mins, who has not taken part at the Euro­pean Cross since that run 10 years ago.

Se­nior men

Ross Milling­ton, a team gold medal­list two years ago, has been be­set by is­sues since his ap­pear­ance in the 10,000m at the Rio Olympics but he sig­nalled his re­turn at the cross coun­try tri­als in Liver­pool as he sped to vic­tory.

The Stock­port Har­rier is joined in the se­nior men’s lineup by the quar­tet who fol­lowed him over the line at Sefton Park – run­ner-up Nick Goolab, Marc Scott, Char­lie Hul­son and Dewi Grif­fiths.

Andy Ver­non, who didn’t race in Liver­pool due to a small nig­gle but has 2016 team gold and 2013 in­di­vid­ual bronze to his name and got the se­lec­tion nod due to his ex­cel­lent record over the years, com­pletes the team.

They will be up against a Turk­ish side which in­cludes the Kenyan-born ath­letes who have caused past con­tro­versy

through the trans­fer of allegiance rule. Both last year’s in­di­vid­ual cham­pion Kaan Ki­gen Oz­bilen and 2016 win­ner Aras Kaya fea­ture in their line-up.

Nor­way’s side in­cludes both Filip and Hen­rik Inge­brigt­sen, with 1500m and 5000m Euro­pean cham­pion Jakob con­test­ing the un­der-20 race, while Italy’s Ye­maneber­han Crippa will fea­ture in the se­nior race for the first time de­spite still be­ing el­i­gi­ble for the un­der-23 con­test. He has won eight cham­pi­onship medals, in­clud­ing in­di­vid­ual hon­ours at the past four cham­pi­onships, and also ac­quired some lo­cal knowl­edge by win­ning the re­cent Waran­de­cross event, staged on the Euro­pean Cross course.

Un­der-23 women

Alder­shot’s Amy Grif­fiths, the first un­der-23 at the tri­als and part of the Bri­tish gold medal win­ning team from last year, re­turns for a race which does not fea­ture ei­ther of the Ger­man duo which filled the top two places last year, Alina Reh and Kon­stanze Kloster­halfen.

Poppy Tank will get her first taste of Euro­pean Cross ac­tion and will be joined by Dani Chat­ten­ton, Ab­bie Don­nelly, Emily Moyes and Ly­dia Turner.

Den­mark’s Euro­pean un­der-23 3000m steeple­chase cham­pion Anna Em­i­lie Moller, based in Bri­tain and in­ter­viewed on page 10, will be look­ing to claim what would be only her coun­try’s sec­ond gold medal in cham­pi­onships his­tory.

Un­der-23 men

Ma­hamed Ma­hamed is be­com­ing an old hand when it comes to these cham­pi­onships and the Southamp­ton ath­lete, 2016 un­der-20 in­di­vid­ual bronze medal­list and three-time team bronze win­ner, fea­tures once again.

He was not the first un­der-23 over the line at the Liver­pool tri­als, how­ever, with Emile Cairess edg­ing him out in the clos­ing stages and se­cur­ing his Euro­pean Cross de­but in the process. John Mil­lar of Ip­swich will also be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the cham­pi­onships for the first time.

Paulo Su­rafel, un­der-20 team bronze win­ner in Chia, re­turns while Pa­trick Dever is aim­ing for a third con­sec­u­tive medal at these cham­pi­onships. Oliver Fox, find­ing form after bat­tling with some health prob­lems, will race for the first time in this event since his se­lec­tion in 2015.

No ath­lete has won con­sec­u­tive men’s un­der-23 ti­tles but French­man Jimmy Gressier will be at­tempt­ing to be­come the first per­son to do so as he de­fends the crown he won in dra­matic fash­ion 12 months ago with a sprint fin­ish.

Un­der-20 women

This looks set to be a fas­ci­nat­ing race, with Liver­pool win­ner Cari Hughes, ninth in Samorin last year, and Khahisa Mh­langa (11th) lead­ing the Bri­tish chal­lenge.

2016 team gold medal­list Amelia Quirk re­turns to the team after miss­ing out last year and

is joined by Anna Macfadyen, a sil­ver medal­list at this sum­mer’s Euro­pean Moun­tain Run­ning Cham­pi­onships, and two other ath­letes new to the Euro­pean Cross in Tif­fany Pen­fold and Grace Brock.

The Ir­ish team looks par­tic­u­larly strong and fea­tures Euro­pean un­der-18 1500m and 3000m cham­pion Sarah Healy, as well as So­phie O’Sul­li­van, daugh­ter of former world crosscoun­try cham­pion So­nia.

Un­der-20 men

The stand­out name among the en­tries for this race is the afore­men­tioned Jakob Inge­brigt­sen, who barely put a foot wrong on the track this year and knows noth­ing other than the top of the podium when it comes to these cham­pi­onships.

The 18-year-old is look­ing for a third con­sec­u­tive ti­tle and has been so bold as to al­ready in­sist that he is aim­ing to make it four next year, be­fore he has to leave the ju­nior ranks.

Bri­tain’s Jake Hey­ward was fourth be­hind the Nor­we­gian at the World Un­der-20 Cham­pi­onships ear­lier this year and is rel­ish­ing the chance to race him again.

The Welsh­man suf­fered from ill­ness in Samorin and could only fin­ish 30th. He has far loftier am­bi­tions this time around after be­ing a con­vinc­ing win­ner at the Liver­pool tri­als. Isaac Ak­ers, run­ner-up to Hey­ward two weeks ago, will make his de­but while Matthew Wil­lis, 14th in last year’s race, Rory Leonard, Tom Mor­timer and Jack Mei­jer com­plete the team.

Mixed re­lay

Jess Judd has four Euro­pean Cross gold medals to her name and the in­di­vid­ual un­der-23 bronze win­ner last year will this time lead the se­nior mixed re­lay team in de­fence of their ti­tle.

She is joined by Alex

Bell, Phil Se­se­mann and

Jamie Wil­lam­son, the son of Scot­tish mile record-holder Gra­ham Wil­lam­son and Ca­role Wil­liamson, who won a team gold and team sil­ver at the 1986 and 1984 World Cross Coun­try Cham­pi­onships re­spec­tively.

The event will be avail­able to watch live on the BBC Red But­ton, Con­nected TV, BBC Sport web­site and mo­bile app. The ac­tion will also be streamed live through the Euro­pean Ath­let­ics web­site euro­pean-ath­let­ics.org

Look out for next week’s is­sue of AW, which will be packed with re­ports and im­ages from Til­burg

Melissa Court­ney: late de­ci­sion to run Euro tri­als paid off with fine fourth place

Ready to go: Jess Judd (990) leads the mixed re­lay team while Melissa Court­ney (third from left), Pippa Wool­ven (1033), Jess Pi­asecki (1011) and Kate Avery (949) will be in ac­tion in the se­nior women’s race

Ver­ity Ock­enden: bounc­ing back

Char­lotte Arter: tri­als win­ner

Se­nior men: Nick Goolab (far left), Marc Scott (sec­ond from left), Emile Cairess (1205), Dewi Grif­fiths (2435) and Ross Milling­ton (be­hindGrif­fiths) all ran well at the Liver­pool tri­als

De­fend­ing cham­pion: Kaan Ki­gen Oz­bilen

Andy Ver­non: a fine record

Ex­pe­ri­ence: Ma­hamed Ma­hamed will go for un­der-23 hon­ourswhile Ye­maneber­han Crippa moves up to the se­niors con­test

De­ter­mined (l to r): Amelia Quirk, Cari Hughes and Khahisa Mh­langa

Amy Grif­fiths: teamgold in Samorin

Dom­i­nant: Jakob Inge­brigt­sen has his mind set on fur­ther suc­cess

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