Team Europe aiming for a repeat victory in a new setting in Stirling

SPAR European Cross Country Championships
Getty Images

Sweden's Napoleon Solomon, Spain's Adel Mechaal and Turkey's Aras Kaya will all represent Team Europe in the senior men's race at the Simplyhealth Great Stirling XCountry

A new setting awaits the athletes for the first major international athletics event of 2019 on Saturday (12) but a familiar face is set to attract the crowds. 

Moving 38 miles west across Scotland from Edinburgh, the Simplyhealth Great Stirling XCountry - a European Athletics Cross Country Permit meeting - will see the latest renewal of the annual January match between Great Britain & Northern Ireland, Team Europe and Team USA.

And with a number of medallists from last month’s SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Tilburg in their team, Team Europe will be looking for a successful defence of the crown they won 12 months ago when they scored 137 points from the hosts with 182 and the United States with 190.

Unlike last year when the mixed relay was not part of the match itself, this event has now been added to the match programme and at the forefront for the hosts will be Laura Muir, the double European indoor champion who is set for another big year.

Never more so than perhaps in less than two months’ time when she lines up on home soil to defend one of those titles at the Glasgow 2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships. Muir is already in scintillating form, opening her indoor campaign with a 14:52.02 5000m clocking in the Emirates Arena last Friday.

Moller poised to make an impact on the senior stage

It should be some year of athletics for Scotland and what a way to start with an event on Saturday which will feature a gold medallist from Tilburg who created her own history when she won the U23 race at the European Cross Country Championships.

Only once before had Denmark won a gold medal with Carsten Jorgensen in 1997 but Anna Emilie Moller made sure that number was doubled as she triumphed in the rain and mud with a brilliant performance. 

Now in this senior race, Moller, 21, has the opportunity to show not only the stamina she has, but also her ability to tackle the tricky terrain. Like Muir, Moller has her sights on a home championships and this race will be an important one ahead of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus on 30 March. 

Moller won in Tilburg by two seconds from Germany’s Anna Gehring who will start alongside her again on Saturday as they join forces for Team Europe. Another leading protagonist is Gehring’s teammate Elena Burkard who finished sixth in the senior women’s race in Tilburg.

The hosts will also be particularly competitive in this race as the British team features three top-10 finishers from Tilburg - Charlotte Arter, Pippa Woolven and Jess Piasecki - as well as Kate Avery, the winner in Edinburgh three seasons ago.

The senior women’s race is held over 6km on a course where the backdrop of Stirling Castle will only add to the sense of the occasion. 

Team Europe to face a strong US contingent for the men’s title

Third last year in Edinburgh and third at the European Cross Country Championships last month, Turkey’s Aras Kaya may just want to prove a point to himself as he chases individual success for Team Europe in the men’s senior race over 8km.

Team Europe could take some stopping as four of the top eight from Tilburg are in action. Kaya is joined by Belgium’s silver medallist Isaac Kimeli as well as Sweden’s Napoleon Solomon and Spain’s Adel Mechaal who were fifth and eighth respectively. 

The athlete most likely to spoil the party is Leonard Korir from the United States who has amassed an outstanding record at this event. Korir has won the last two editions of this event in Edinburgh, beating Callum Hawkins in an epic clash in 2017 before defending his title with comparative ease ahead of Kaan Kigen Ozbilen last year. 

The American team also features former three-time winner Garrett Heath and Olympic 3000m steeplechase finalist Hillary Bor, who finished seventh last year. 

After the senior men’s and women’s races, the programme concludes with the mixed relay where the hosts might begin as the favourites. Although it was not a scoring event last year, Muir treated the home crowd to a memorable afternoon when she ran the last leg of the 4x1km relay.

This time the relay has been extended to 1500m, the distance over which Muir is the reigning European champion both indoors and outdoors.

The hosts will face a stern test from Team Europe as the senior relay team is made up of three of the four runners who won relay gold for Spain in Tilburg: Esther Guerrero, Victor Ruiz and Solange Pereira. Spanish 800m record-holder Saul Ordonez has been replaced by Pablo Sanchez-Valladares.