Junior men's preview: Great Britain favourites to retain the title | 07.12.2012
Ian Bailey came from behind to take the junior men's race in 20:50 with a superb final few kilometres to book his place for the SPAR European Cross Country Championships to be held in Budapest on 9 December, with Charlie Grice and Charlie Hulson finishing second (20:53) and third (20:55) respectively.
Bailey, runner up in the McCain UK Cross Challenge Final and Inter Counties in March, surprised himself with how well he ran: "I came here hopeful of winning but my aim was really to get in the top six," he said.
Trailing a front running trio of Jonathan Davies - who eventually missed out on a top six finish in seventh - Luke Traynor and US-based Kieran Clements at the halfway stage, Bailey timed his surge perfectly and with one kilometre to go he had cut down Hulson's lead, that at one point was around 30m, and he didn't look back from there.
"In the second half I started to come through," he said. "I managed to kick and get up to the leading group and then I felt good enough to kick on from there. I'm hoping I can take this form into the Europeans."
Making up the automatic selection positions for the Aviva GB & NI junior team, Clements, one of the only athletes to return from America for the trials, finished fourth in 21:00, Traynor was fifth in 21:02 and William Paulson was sixth in 21:05.
Last year, the British had a battle royal with the Russian squad who had the individual winner in Ilgizar Safiulin. The Russians once again will turn up with a strong group led by Mikhail Strelkov who formed part of the silver medal winning troupe last year.
Strelkov was only 49th in Velenje at the age of 17, but has made serious inroads this year. In March he was proclaimed Russian junior cross country champion in Zhukovskiy winning by a handsome 25 second margin. Now 18, Strelkov has been busy on the track where he took the national junior 5000m title this summer with a lifetime best 14:32.85.
France were bronze medallists last year and like Russia it is one of their back markers in Velenje, Francois Barrer, who could figure more prominently this year. Barrer was three seconds down on Stelkov in Slovenia in 52nd position, but has spent the summer honing his speed on the track.
Over 1500m he reduced his personal best by seven seconds, recording 3:45.11 while more pertinently he slashed almost 22 seconds from his 3000m best, leaving it at a European leading time of 8:07.76 before lifting the French junior 5000m title.
The leading Ukrainian entrant is Valdyslav Honcharenko who pocketed the national junior cross title before adding 3000m and 5000m junior titles on the track. Just out of the medals in fourth in 2011, the Ukraine again fields a strong posse of four.
The Belgian selection race in Roeslare saw Isaac Kimeli a clear winner from Lahsene Bouchikui with Steven Casteele on his shoulder. Kimeli improved his 1500m time to 3:49.48 while Bouchikhi finished 10th in the national championships over 10000m clocking 30:42.58. Belgium were fifth in Velenje and will be hoping to improve on that.
The Spanish are all debutants apart from Angel Ronco who was 48th last year. Pablo Sanchez is the son of Paco Sanchez Vargas, one of Spain's most famous athletes, who was fifth in the Moscow Olympic Games steeplechase. Ronco won the junior race in Alcobendas in November, one of the three races used by the Spanish federation to determine selection.
Croatia have named six for their team, amongst them the outstanding Dino Bošnjak who leads the continental 10000m rankings with a national junior record of 29:41.20. A versatile athlete, he is third on the European 5000m lists and fourth in the 3000m. In the last two editions of the SPAR European Cross Country Championships, the Croat has improved from 95th in 2010 to 30th last year and should continue the upward trend.
Another who might opt for individual podium honours is Poland's Szymon Kulka, European junior 10000m bronze, who figures high on the distance rankings this year being third fastest 10000 runner and fourth in the 5000m lists.