Ireland's Fionnuala Britton en route to her 6Km team race win in Edinburgh (© Mark Shearman)
The Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country, an IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting, will have two main focal points on Saturday (5). The first is the now traditional annual international match between Great Britain, Europe and the USA; the second is a classy women’s 3km race which features Ethiopia’s reigning Olympic 5000m champion Meseret Defar.
As the name of the event implies, the fourth of this winter’s IAAF Cross Country Meetings will take place in the Scottish capital, in the picturesque setting of Holyrood Park, which was the venue for the 2008 IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
Defending champions return to Edinburgh
The international match comprises of four races, with the senior events incorporating under 23 teams.
The men's 8km race includes Spain’s Ayad Lamdassem, last year's individual champion. The 2010 and 2011 SPAR European Cross Country Championships silver medallist was sixth at last month’s continental championship in Hungary but bounced back to finish a good second at the high quality San Silvestre Vallecana 10km road race in Madrid on New Year's Eve, only losing out to Ethiopia’s 2012 Olympic 10000m bronze medallist Tariku Bekele.
The Team Europe men’s team has another three runners who finished in the top 10 in Hungary and although the Italian gold medallist Andrea Lalli is unavailable, French silver medallist Hassan Chadi will make the trip to Scotland.
The European team will be captained by Ukraine’s evergreen Sergiy Lebid, the nine-time European Cross Country champion and a regular visitor to Edinburgh in the past, who was an impressive third at the famous BOClassic 10km road race in Bolzano on New Year’s Eve.
Great Britain and the USA will be looking to their respective captains, Steve Vernon and Bobby Mack – the latter a surprised but delighted runner up behind Lamdassem 12 months ago - to lead by example and help grab vital points.
Fionnuala Britton, having achieved a second successive European Cross Country title, is also looking to repeat what was a runaway victory over 6km a year ago.
“I'm in good shape at the moment and was pleased with my run at the big Brussels race just before Christmas (the IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting on 23 December where she finished second) so I hope I've still got that sort of shape after the holidays,” said Britton earlier this week.
The Irishwoman will captain a European team that includes the other two senior women's medallists in Hungary, Portugal's Ana Dulce Felix and The Netherlands' Adrienne Herzog. The three other senior women in Team Europe all finished in the top nine in Hungary
Great Britain will look to Jessica Coulson to lead their charge for victory. The European Cross Country under 23 champion will be accompanied by Julia Bleasdale, who finished eighth in both the Olympic Games 5000m and 10000m and was the fastest European woman over the shorter distance in 2012.
The junior men will also race over 6km while the junior women’s have to negotiate a muddy 4km course. The latter race features Great Britain’s Emelia Gorecka and Germany’s Maya Rehberg, who were the silver and bronze medallists at the European Cross Country Championships last month and are still young enough to race as juniors.
Defar faces Cheruiyot again
The special invitational women’s 3km race pits two familiar foes against each other: Ethiopia’s Meseret Defar and Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot.
Between them, the pair have amassed a stunning array of honours and title. Most recently, Defar regained the Olympic 5000m title she had first won back in 2004, while Cheruiyot had a fantastic 2011 when she won at the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships and also took the IAAF World Championships 5000m and 10000m gold medals, but had to settle for the silver and bronze medal in these two events at the Olympic Games.
Now both 29, Defar and Cheruiyot have known each other since the stood on the podium together at the inaugural IAAF World Youth Championships in 1999, when they took the 3000m silver and bronze medals respectively.
Edinburgh will be their 28th encounter, with Defar having come home in front of her Kenyan rival on 19 previous occasions, although this will be the first time they have met in a cross country race.
There are also plenty of fine runners in the race apart from Defar and Cheruiyot.
Kenya’s Linet Masai, the 2009 World Championships 10000m gold medallist and two good Ethiopians, 2012 World Indoor Championships 1500m gold medallist Genzebe Dibaba and the 2012 Olympic Games 3000m Steeplechase bronze medallist Sofia Assefa make this far from a two-horse race.
Domestic interest will be centred on 2009 World Championships 1500m silver medallist Lisa Dobriskey.
"I am really looking forward to racing as I haven't been able to race this time of year for a while due to injury, so I'm grateful to be healthy. I love running in Edinburgh as the supporters are amazing," said Dobriskey.
Dobriskey also finished 10th in the Olympic Games 1500m final last summer.
"2012 was a tough year. I'd always imagined it would just click and go my way. I couldn't have been more wrong!” she reflected. "It was always a race against the clock. I'd had surgery in October 2011 (for a hip injury) so was a bit behind from the start. Then I picked up a serious injury in February which meant I didn't start running until May.
"It was a nightmare at the time. I'd gone from seriously wanting an Olympic medal to being faced with not making the team. Thankfully, I got there and by the time the Olympics came around I was in a good place," added Dobriskey.
Phil Minshull and Organisers for the IAAF