Mixed relay preview: reigning champions Great Britain to be tested

Samorin 2017 SPAR European Cross Country Championships mixed relay
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Tom Marshall anchored Great Britain to victory in the inaugural mixed relay at the 2017 SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Samorin

Tom Marshall held off a late charge from Czech Republic’s Jakub Holusa to anchor Great Britain to the inaugural mixed relay title at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Samorin last year.

Great Britain will be on the start-line in Tilburg on Sunday (9) although the relay team this time around will be devoid of any members of the gold medal-winning team from twelve months ago.

The new look team features individual U20 and U23 medallist Jessica Judd and sub-two minute 800m runner Alexandra Bell who are both stalwarts of the British team. They are joined by 1500m specialists Phil Sesemann (3:40.93 PB) and Jamie Williamson (3:41.59 PB) - both of whom will be making their championship debuts on Sunday.

The British team will face a particularly strong challenge from Belgium whose quartet includes four athletes with notable lifetime bests over 1500m: Ismael Debjani (3:33.70), Pieter-Jan Hannes (3:34.49), Elise Vanderelst (4:05.70) and Sofie Van Accom (4:07.30).

Hannes’ lifetime best dates back to 2014 but he is coming back to good form again after two injury plagued-seasons. He has a good cross country background too, winning the individual U23 title in Belgrade in 2013.

The breakdown of the relay should also favour teams with 1500m specialists in their quartet. After an opening leg of 1200m, the next two runners will complete laps of 1500m before the anchor runners embark on a 1600m circuit. The men are assigned the first and third legs this year with the women taking legs two and four.

Spain won bronze last year and while Great Britain is sending a completely different team, three members of their bronze medal-winning team - Solange Pereira, Esther Guerrero and Victor Ruiz - are returning for relay duty. Their team is strengthened further by the inclusion of Saul Ordonez, who lowered the Spanish 800m record to 1:43.65 in July.

The French team features two medallists from the European Championships in Berlin: Renelle Lamote and Mahiedine Mekhissi. Lamote won silver over 800m while Mekhissi won his fourth title in five editions in the 3000m steeplechase. Mekhissi’s proficiency over the barriers might prove to his advantage on Sunday as the course features some obstacles for the runners to clear.

Sweden has also named a solid team including Lovisa Lindh and Johan Rogestedt while Ireland, whose quartet features Siofra Cleirigh Buttner and John Travers, will be looking to feature in the race for the medals.