Under 23 women's preview: In-form Coulson the woman to beat | 06.12.2012
|Azerbaijan's Layes Abdullayeva is expected to
provide a strong challenge to British hope Jess
Coulson's bid for the under-23 title in Budapest.
Great Britain's women scooped up all the age-group team prizes at last year's championships and in Jess Coulson they appear to have unearthed a star in waiting to continue the win streak.
In the British trials Coulson romped away with the title from more seasoned competitors. Though Coulson still qualifies for the under 23 race in Budapest she had no difficulty in negotiating the muddy conditions, covering the 8.1 kilometres in 27.41 to claim the senior race with another U23 competitor, Hannah Walker, seven seconds in arrears: "I wanted to sit in and play it safe to ensure I made the top six U23s," said Coulson after crossing the line first in Liverpool. "I knew it would be tense so when I took the lead I tried to test Hannah a bit and I felt quite comfortable.
"I've run well on the road but not always so well in the mud so I'm really happy. Once I took the lead I didn't look back once; I just went for it and now I'm looking forward to the European cross."
Coulson has been a medallist in the SPAR European Cross Country Championships before, in 2006, when she formed part of the gold medal winning troupe. But in the trials race last year she could finish no higher than 31st, over two minutes behind the winner.
This winter, though, she has already made a dramatic impact over the country finishing a fine third in Atapuerca, Spain. The Atapuerca result was interesting because in Coulson's wake was none other than the reigning senior champion, Fionnuala Britton of Ireland in fourth and Velenje fourth placer, Italy's Nadia Ejaffini in fifth. The British were runaway winners of the team title last year and will be difficult to dislodge this year too.
But there is plenty of other talent on show that could offer a stern test, not least among them is Layes Abdullayeva of Azerbaijan. Abdullayeva was the surprise package at the European Athletics U23 Championships in Ostrava 2011 where she ran away with both the 5000m and 10000m.
This year has not been so successful and her form over the country is an unknown quantity, but the former Ethiopian is a determined front runner who will make her presence felt.
One athlete who is very much a known threat is Ukraine's Victoria Pogorielska. Sixth last year and only 11sec down on the winner, Pogorielska is reigning national cross country champion who also races on the roads. She competes over a wide range of events from 800m upwards and this summer established a national U23 5000m record of 15:46.25.
The French have high hopes for a medal from Clémence Calvin who was eighth last year. It was debated whether she would start for the seniors but it was finally decided that a medal candidate at this level was not to be spurned.
13th in the Cross de L'Acier, she was beaten by far more experienced seniors, but apart from the three Ethiopians in the race, she was first in her category. During the summer she set three lifetime bests including at the strength sapping steeplechase.
Corinna Harrer is the only athlete from last year's top three to return in this age group and the German has had a prolific year, setting no fewer than seven lifetime bests from 800m to 10km.
But in her only outing over the country this autumn in Darmstadt, the under 23 1500m bronze medallist was beaten into second by a lady she will once again encounter in Szentendre, Fabienne Schlumpf of Switzerland. The Swiss was only 30th in Velenje, but is clearly much improved.
Portugal were third in the team standings in 2011 behind Germany and winner Great Britain. Their lead runner on that occasion was Carla Salomé Rocha who finished ninth. This winter she was beaten in Amora by team-mate, Caterina Ribeiro but then reversed the order in Tilburg by some distance and appears to be rounding into shape just in time.