Looking to impress in Edinburgh, Ozbilen out to prove European win was no fluke

Kaan Kigen Ozbilen (left) and Adel Mechaal embrace after the 2017 SPAR European Cross Country Championships men's senior race
European Athletics

Kaan Kigen Ozbilen (left) and Adel Mechaal embrace after the 2017 SPAR European Cross Country Championships men's senior race

Team Europe’s men’s team will be in action at the Great Edinburgh XCountry, a European Athletics Cross Country Permit Meeting, and could scarcely be any stronger with six of the top eight finishers from last month’s SPAR European Cross Country Team Championships will be in action on Saturday 13 January.

The team is headed by Turkey’s senior champion in the Slovakian town of Samorin, Kaan Kigen Ozbilen.

Ozbilen defied many pundits' predictions and triumphed in that race by nine seconds, winning in 29:45 after 10,180m of running, from Spain’s Adel Mechaal who is now part of the same team along with France’s Hassan Chahdi, who was fourth at the championships, Belgium’s Soufiane Bouchikhi, who was fifth, Turkey’s Aras Kaya, who was seventh, and Spain’s eighth-placed Daniel Mateo who was eighth.

The only men from the top eight in Samorin missing form Team Europe from Samorin are third-placed Andrew Butchart and his fellow Briton Ben Connor, who was sixth, and it is the latter who will be at the forefront of the home bid for success in an 8km race which completes the five-race programme in the Scottish capital.

It is another big day in the career of Ozbilen who became the fourth successive, and different, Turkish senior men’s champion at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships.

Better known as a marathon runner prior to his exploits in Samorin, Ozbilen showed fine endurance and speed to run away from Mechaal after it became a duel between the pair of them over the final kilometre and Saturday presents him with another opportunity for him to show his strength and how he became the number one in Europe.

After celebrating his individual and team golds in Samorin, Ozbilen commented: “It was a tough competition and the cold weather made the run much harder. I loved the course, it was special.”

Kaan Kigen Ozbilen wins the 2017 SPAR European Cross Country Championships senior men's title
European Athletics
Kaan Kigen Ozbilen wins the 2017 SPAR European Cross Country Championships senior men's title

Which is actually good news, at least for him, and he might have similar sentiments by mid-afternoon on Saturday.

A high of merely 5C – positively balmy compared to the sub-zero temperatures which prevailed in Samorin but otherwise very chilly – is predicted for Edinburgh and indeed this course is special, with its steep gradients and picturesque views over the historic city.

Back for the USA is the Edinburgh defending senior men’s champion Leonard Korir, while their squad also includes the men who won in the three years preceding him: Chris Derrick won here in 2014 and 2015 while Garrett Heath was the individual senior champion in 2016.

Connor is joined in the British squad by, among others, the 2014 European Athletics Championships 10,000m silver medallist Andy Vernon, one of just three men – along with Chahdi and Italy’s Andrea Lalli – who can boast of winning European cross country individual medals in all age groups.

The U20 race will be an intriguing affair as, after the turn of the year, many of the top finishers from Samorin are no longer eligible to race in this category.

However, Romania’s Adrian Garcea and the Spanish pair Annasse Mahboub and Mario Garcia all had excellent runs to finish in the top 10 in Samorin and with 1999 birthdays they will not only be pulling on a Team Europe vest in Edinburgh but also will have their sights on the end of the year and trying to make the podium at this year’s SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Tilburg next December after finishing sixth, seventh and ninth last month.

The UK team includes the 2017 European U20 1500m champion Jake Heyward with the USA bring with them Dylan Jacobs, who won the prestigious Foot Locker Nationals title in San Diego last month.

The Great Edinburgh XCountry will be streamed live via www.european-athletics.org