SIMPLYHEALTH GREAT STIR­LING XCOUN­TRY

A look for­ward to the big Great Britain vs Europe vs United States clash this week­end

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

FROM one pic­turesque and his­toric Scot­tish venue to an­other. Hav­ing been based in Ed­in­burgh’s Holy­rood Park since 2005, this Great XCoun­try in­ter­na­tional meet­ing moves to a new home in Stir­ling this year.

Rather than the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, ath­letes from across Great Britain, Europe and Amer­ica will in­stead bat­tle it out in the well-es­tab­lished team com­pe­ti­tion with the beau­ti­ful Stir­ling Cas­tle as their back­drop.

The events which will take place in the grounds of the

King’s Park golf course should make for ex­cel­lent view­ing and the usual tem­plate will be fol­lowed, with Scot­tish In­ter­Dis­trict races kick­ing off the day’s pro­ceed­ings be­fore the in­ter­na­tional ac­tion gets un­der way. The main dif­fer­ence is that the only ju­nior race on the elite pro­gramme this time is the un­der-20 con­test which has been in­cluded in the mixed re­lay event, where the teams com­pete for the Ste­wart Tro­phy as well as points.

Laura Muir is ac­cus­tomed to vic­tory when it comes to this event and the head­line act will once again an­chor the Great British re­lay line-up. She is joined by Alex Bell, Phil Se­se­mann and Jamie Wil­liamson – three mem­bers of the re­lay side which nar­rowly came fourth at last month’s Eu­ro­pean Cross Coun­try Cham­pi­onships.

They will be up against a Eu­ro­pean side con­tain­ing three of the Spain team which took gold in Til­burg, as well as USA’s young line-up and a Scot­land quar­tet which fea­tures Mhairi Hendry, Steph Pen­ny­cook, Adam Craig and Michael Fer­gu­son.

Eu­ro­pean ju­nior women’s team gold medal­list Grace Brock will team up with Char­lotte Alexan­der and Eu­ro­pean ju­nior men’s team sil­ver medal­lists

Matt Willis and Jack Mei­jer in the un­der-20 British side.

“I re­ally love the event and we’ve won it ev­ery year so, no pres­sure!” says Muir of her re­lay task. “It’s go­ing to be tough but I love rac­ing on home soil. I

loved Holy­rood but it’s ex­cit­ing for ev­ery­body to have a new course. Ev­ery­body’s go­ing to be in the same boat and it will be fun to run a dif­fer­ent event.”

In the se­nior men’s race, Amer­ica’s Leonard Korir will be look­ing to keep up his win­ning habit fol­low­ing his con­sec­u­tive Holy­rood vic­to­ries of 2017 and last year. The 2016 win­ner Gar­rett Heath, a two-time short course win­ner in Ed­in­burgh, re­turns too.

For Britain, Eu­ro­pean cross team sil­ver medal­lists Char­lie Hul­son, Kris­tian Jones, Ross Milling­ton and Marc Scott fea­ture, as does un­der-23 team sil­ver medal­list Pa­trick Dever, rac­ing in a se­nior British vest for the first time. The vastly ex­pe­ri­enced Andy Ver­non will be look­ing to race well fol­low­ing a sea­son blighted by in­jury.

Team Europe topped the over­all stand­ings last year and they field a strong line-up again which in­cludes Bel­gium’s Isaac Kimeli and Aras Kaya of Tur­key, se­nior sil­ver and bronze medal­lists in Til­burg re­spec­tively, as well as Spaniard Adel Mechaal.

In the women’s race, Britain’s Eu­ro­pean cross team sil­ver medal­lists all fea­ture. Kate Avery was a win­ner at Holy­rood Park three years ago while Char­lotte Arter un­der­lined her fine form by run­ning the fastest ever parkrun by a fe­male last week­end.

Emily Hosker Thorn­hill, Ver­ity Ock­enden, Jess Pi­asecki and Pippa Wool­ven com­plete a for­mi­da­ble line-up.

The up­com­ing IAAF World Cross Coun­try Cham­pi­onships add an­other size­able el­e­ment to this sea­son and Anna Em­i­lie Møller is eye­ing suc­cess on home soil in Aarhus later this year. The British-based Dane, in­di­vid­ual Eu­ro­pean un­der-23 cham­pion, leads a Eu­ro­pean team also fea­tur­ing Ger­many’s Anna Gehring – the ath­lete she pipped to the ti­tle in Hol­land.

Anne-Marie Blaney, run­ner-up at the re­cent Amer­i­can club cross coun­try cham­pi­onships, will be at the fore­front of the USA team.

The Simplyhealth Great Stir­ling XCoun­try is free to spec­ta­tors and will also be shown live on BBC1 from 13:15-15:15

Win­ning feel­ing: Laura Muir knows what it takes to an­chor the re­lay side to vic­tory

Suc­cess: Anna Em­i­lie Møller

Kate Avery: 2016 win­ner

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