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Former World champion Willis leads Australian bid for World Cross Country glory

National 10,000m recordholder Collis Birmingham and 2004 world cross country champion Benita Willis will headline Australia’s assault on the 2010 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland (28).

Following a week-long preparation camp in London (GBR), the 16-strong Australian team has arrived in Bydgoszcz all set to take on the world’s best cross country runners when racing gets under way this Sunday.

Birmingham, a four-time world cross country representative who posted his best-ever finish in 2009 (29th place), will be joined on the start line of the senior men’s 12km event by three-time World Cross Country representative Liam Adams, 2009 World Half Marathon representative Jeff Hunt, reigning national cross country champion Clint Perrett and rising star Duer Yoa.

Birmingham arrives in Bydgoszcz fresh from his run at the IAAF Challenge meeting in Melbourne earlier this month, where he placed fifth over 5000m in a Commonwealth Games A-qualifying time of 13:33.44. Last month the 25-year-old Victorian bettered his own meet record at Hobart’s Briggs Athletics Classic to win the 5000m for a fourth straight year on the Apple Isle, stopping the clock at 13:24.62.

Willis, a veteran of seven World Cross Country titles and winner of the World crown in Brussels (BEL) in 2004, will be joined by national 10,000m champion Eloise Wellings, dual world cross country teams bronze medallist Anna Thompson, three-time World Cross Country representative Lara Tamsett and senior international debutante Tamara Carvolth over the senior women’s 8km course.

Reigning national road racing champion Nikki Chapple, who was named to the Australian squad in January, has been forced to withdraw from the titles due to a stress reaction in her bone marrow and has not travelled to Poland with the team.

Thirty-year-old Willis placed fifth at this month’s Melbourne Track Classic in a time of 16:14.11 and, with individual gold (2004) and two team bronze medals (2006, 2008) already lining her trophy cabinet, will line up on Sunday intent on steering the women’s team to a podium finish and bolstering her medal collection.

“Women’s running in Australia is going from strength to strength and I think we’re a real chance for a medal,” Willis said following her win at the national cross country trials in Melbourne in January.

“We’ve got a lot of guts here in Australia and make no mistake, our isolation won’t stop us from hopefully becoming one of the best distance running countries in the world.”

Athletics Australia national distance coordinator Tim O’Shaughnessy, who is in Poland with the Australian team, said the nation’s top off-road racers were ready for a tough assignment this weekend.

“So far so good, London was a terrific way to recover from the flight and get in some training in an English-speaking country in a pretty relaxed atmosphere,” he said.

“Now we’re in Poland it’s getting down to business, we went over the course yesterday and it will be really tough, there are a lot of turns on it and it’s very rough and we’re expecting it to be a hard race.

“The team is fit and ready to go and looking for a good result, it's a world championships and everyone’s aware of that. Collis (Birmingham) is happy with his preparation and there’s a really good feel amongst the team, they're all ready and looking to go.”

Athletics Australia for the IAAF