Can heads Team Europe and is determined to defend her Edinburgh title

Yasemin Can defends title in Samorin
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Turkey's Yasemin Can ran out triumphant in the senior women's race at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships 

Sport is all about bringing the best together and Team Europe can safely say that will be the case as they look for success on Saturday at the Great Edinburgh XCountry, a European Athletics Cross Country Permit Meeting, on Saturday 13 January.

As arguably the first major athletics event of 2018 is always a tremendous way to start the year, if nothing else for the glorious setting of Holyrood Park in the Scottish capital, the venue of the 2018 IAAF World Cross Country Championships when they were staged in the same city.

Runners from Europe take on Great Britain and the USA, in a match consisting of four races – two senior races and two U20 races as well as a non-scoring mixed relay – and the women’s squad contains three of the top five finishers at the SPAR European Cross Country Team Championships in Samorin.

Two-time European cross country champion Yasemin Can proved last month she is adept at defending titles and it is something she will be looking do again on Saturday.

Fresh from her golden success in Slovakia, Can might find her closest rival is an athlete again helping her win points for the same side.

Can won here 12 months ago when Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack was second and the Irish star will be looking to be up there once more over 6km.

However, the 21-year-old Can has quickly in her career become such a dominance force on whatever surface she runs in continental competition, normally running away from the field, that her presence in this race will see her start as the clear favourite.

McCormack, herself a double European cross country champion in the past, and Can are part of strong squad which includes Romania’s Roxana Barca, who was fourth in Samorin, and Germany’s Elena Burkard, who was fifth, but Team Europe might not have it all their own way.

In the British squad are Emelia Gorecka and Harriet Knowles-Jones, the latter finally triumphing on the European stage when she won gold in the U20 race in Samorin, a feat which earned her the accolade of European Athlete of the Month for December.

Harriet Knowles-Jones wins the 2017 SPAR European Cross Country Championships U20 women's title
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Harriet Knowles-Jones wins the 2017 SPAR European Cross Country Championships U20 women's title

Gorecka’s record in those championships speaks for itself, with six junior golds including twice being the individual champion, and she also has very happy memories of this Edinburgh international.

Now 23, Gorecka’s senior British debut came here in 2014 when she was third as her team won the title and she will be looking to stay in the mix having finished seventh in Samorin, five spots in front of McCormack, returning to a major international championship after finally putting a longer period of injury problems behind her.

Desi Linden, 34, will bring a wealth of experience to the USA team as she will aim to use all the endurance that has seen her finish second at both the Chicago and Boston marathons, but this time knowing the need for speed much earlier on is essential.

The Netherlands’ Jasmijn Lau made quite an impression at the European Athletics U20 Championships last summer where she won 5000m title and she runs in the women’s U20 race over 4km in Edinburgh.

Fourth in Samorin, she can count among her Team Europe colleagues, among others, Italy’s 2017 European U20 3000m bronze medallist Nadia Battocletti.

However, they will both be aware that Great Britain’s Khahisa Mhlanaga, who won the 800m in Grosseto and was a very promising 11th in Samorin for someone who is ostensibly a middle-distance exponent, could be a major threat if she is up there near the finish.

Standing close to the runners by the side of the course is one of the beauties for fans of cross country running and at Holyrood Park the Scottish supporters will be within touching distance of one of their contemporary heroines.

Laura Muir, the reigning European indoor 1500m and 3000m champion, will receive the biggest cheers of the day when she runs in the mixed 4x1000m relay as teams compete for the Stewart Cup.

The relay is not part of the match itself, but the presence of Muir will be something special as she runs in a British team which includes Tom Marshall who anchored the side to gold last month as the mixed 4x1500m relay made its debut in Samorin.

Team Europe will be represented in this event by the Spanish quartet which won bronze there: Solange Pereira, Victor Ruiz, Esther Guerrero and Victor Ruiz.