Team Europe eye a 'great' win

Team Europe eye a 'great' win
European Athletics

Team Europe will present a strong squad for the Great Edinburgh XCountry on Saturday.

It is a promoter’s dream. On one side of the start line will be the greatest distance runner in the world, on the other will be the man who has just won major gold and among them will be the defending champion.

The men’s 8km race at the Great Edinburgh XCountry could be something to savour on Saturday afternoon.

Twelve months ago here at picturesque Holyrood Park, wearing a bobble hat and gloves, Mo Farah competed over cross country for the first time since 2011.

It was the start of a year where he was determined to retain his Olympic 5000m and 10,000m titles. He achieved that in style, and he is now Sir Mo Farah.

“It’s been pretty exciting time. It’s an honour to be able to called Sir, as an athlete I never dreamed of it. The first time I ran in a Great Britain vest was amazing, so to be recognised by the country and the public is incredible. It’s great for athletics – it gives young kids a dream, and hope. It’s a key message for them that if you work hard at something, you can achieve it.”

But turning the clock back to last January, for once he did not win. He was beaten by two seconds, 25:29 to 25:31, by American Garrett Heath who returns for a race which will have the presence of Turkey’s brilliant distance star Aras Kaya, who brought 2016 to a glorious finale by winning gold at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Chia last month.

They all clash in the final race tomorrow at this traditional match between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Team Europe and the USA.

Last year Britain won with 125 points from Europe (197) and the USA (232) in a competition made up of a junior men’s 6km race, junior women’s 4km, senior women’s 6km and the senior men’s 8km.

This European Athletics Cross Country Permit meeting will also feature an exciting XCountry 4x1km relay for the Stewart Cup. It does not count for match scores but will see British team captain Laura Muir in action, fresh from her 5000m national record-breaking exploits of earlier this week.

Like last year, Farah is also joined by fellow Briton Callum Hawkins, who was ninth in the Olympic marathon in Rio. He will be determined to build on that performance in 2017 and now is a great chance to showcase his talent again.

Kaya may take it on from the front, while Farah will be aware of last year when a slip in the latter stages cost him dear and this time he might decide to dictate the race more.

Team Europe are packed with experience, with Kaya joined by, among others, Spain’s Carlos Mayo, the Euro Cross under-23 silver medallist, and Italy’s Marouan Razine, who was ninth in the senior race in Chia.

The women’s senior race features several of the leading athletes from the SPAR European Cross Country Championships.

Team Europe is bristling with so much strength, as the Euro Cross gold and silver medallists, Turkey’s Yasemin Can and Meryem Akda, combine their forces. Romania’s Ancuta Bobocel, who was fourth in Sardinia, will be a threat too as will Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack, who led the way for Team Europe 12 months ago when she finished second to Great Britain’s Kate Avery.

McCormack was fifth in Chia with Britain’s Steph Twell and they should be at the forefront of a race that sees Germany's Anna Gehring, under-23 silver medallist, also part of the Team Europe squad.

Along with Twell, Gemma Steel, the 2014 Euro Cross champion, will carry big hopes for Britain having finished third 12 months ago ahead of Bobocel.

Alex Yee returns for Britain to defend his junior title with Spain's Adrian Ben, who was eighth in Chia, likely to make a strong challenge for Team Europe and in the women's 6km race, Britain's Harriet Knowles-Jones, who was third at Euro Cross, could be the one to catch with Netherlands’ Jasminj Lau set to be in the mix for Team Europe after finishing fifth at the championships.