Ireland’s 2011 and 2012 SPAR European Cross Country Championships gold medallist Fionnuala Britton starts as firm favourite for the 36th running of the Antrim International Cross Country - an IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting - in Northern Ireland on Saturday (12).
In 2012, Britton fought a close dual over 5.6km in appalling weather conditions with Great Britain’s Gemma Steel before opening a decisive gap midway through the third and final 1.8km main lap.
This year, event organisers Athletics NI have attempting to make life a little bit easier for the runners by re-modelling the circuit in favour of some firmer terrain after some treacherous conditions underfoot 12 months ago but Britton's current form is such, following an emphatic win in at the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in Edinburgh last Saturday, that neither the course nor the opposition is expected to deny her a successful defence of her title.
Antrim marks a vital stage in Britton’s bid to place highly at the 2013 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, on 24 March, and certainly finish much better than her 16th place at the last edition of the event two years ago.
Britton's main threat at Greenmount is likely to come from Great Britain’s European under 23 cross country champion Jess Coulson, who has had several duels with the Irishwoman in the last two months.
Also in contention for a place on the podium will be Ireland’s former Dublin Marathon winner Linda Byrne, whose eighth place at the European Cross Country Championships helped Ireland to a unexpected team victory in the Hungarian town of Szentendre on 9 December.
Others who could do well in Greenmount include the British trio of Louise Damen, Olympic Games marathon runner Freya Murray-Ross, and former IAAF World Junior Championships1500m winner Steph Twell.
Kenya is represented by Eunice Kales and Magdalene Masai.
The men's 10.8 k event is likely to result in another Kenyan win, following on from three successive victories for Mike Kigen. Last year's third place finisher Bernard Rotich is in good form and the 2010 Commonwealth Games 10000m bronze medallist Joseph Birech, who finished sixth in Antrim last year, is also in the field along with their compatriots David Bett with Julius Maisei.
The British men’s challenge includes Frank Tickner, who had an excellent run to finish fifth in Antrim last year. However, he will do well to defeat Andy Vernon who is clearly in form after finishing second in Edinburgh last Saturday.
Phil Minshull and organisers for the IAAF