Antrim, Northern IrelandEuropean Indoor 3000m bronze medallist Mary Cullen opened her calendar year in style as she led from the off in today’s Antrim International IAAF Cross Country Permit event (23), banishing the disappointment of her 12th place finish at last month's European XC in Dublin.
Cullen was told to sit in the pack and follow the pace of Britain's Hayley Yelling-Higham, the memorable winner of the continental title in Santry.
But Cullen, 25, showed great confidence from the off as she gave an excellent display of front running to claim top spot, just over half a minute clear from the very experienced and in form Hungarian Aniko Kalovics.
A heavy fog lifted just before the race, and despite overcast conditions the rain stayed away, with soft conditions underfoot.
On a grey afternoon Sligo woman Cullen roared to a convincing win, dominating the 5.4 kilometre race from start to finish, buoyed by the large Irish support.
Jess Sparke was the first Briton home – finishing third, 10 seconds adrift of Kalovics.
A lot of the pre-race focus had been on Yelling-Higham, but the Dorchester athlete failed to feature inside the top three at any stage of the race, eventually claiming fifth spot.
Cullen was thrilled to open 2010 on a positive note, and bounce back from the heartbreak of her Dublin disappointment.
"I wanted it so badly in Dublin that I think I might just have stepped it too far thinking that more, more, more instead of thinking less is more maybe. You live and learn through these things," she said.
And Cullen revealed that former Irish Olympian and 1998 double World XC champion Sonia O'Sullivan was a key motivator in getting her back on track.
"I just couldn't get my head around what happened. I was searching for answers and talking to people and sometimes you just don't have an answer.”
"I talked to Sonia and she explained about the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and how it went for her. You have to be just feisty going into a race and I just felt going into Dublin that I was almost tired and a little bit drained going in and you aren't going to get your best out then unfortunately."
In her first event at the Greenmount Campus in Antrim, Cullen was keen to lay down a marker ahead of a flight to Australia on Tuesday (26) for some warm weather training.
"I'm heading off to Australia now for two months and I wanted a good performance before I head down there and get ready for the European outdoors in Barcelona.
"We can't keep looking back, it's always good to look forward - the European Cross Country event is in Portugal next year, so that's something to look forward to also," she added.
MEN’s race – Kigen dominates
Meanwhile, for the second year in succession, an African athlete gained victory in the men's race in Antrim, with Kenyan Mike Kigen succeeding Ethiopia's Imane Merga as the men's senior champion.
Kigen benefitted from switching to longer spikes before the race as he gave a powerful performance, finishing almost a minute clear of Andy Vernon, 23, from England.
There was a battle right until the finish for third place. Mexican Juan Luis Barrios edged his way to the bronze medal just ahead of Eritrea's Teweldeberhan Mengisteab.
Kigen, who sustained a serious knee injury in November 2006 which ruled him out for a year, is glad to have made a winning start to 2010.
"It was a very heavy course but I have doing plenty of gym work in Kenya at the moment so that's why it was so easy for me," he said.
It was Kigen's second race win in the space of a week after he celebrated his 24th birthday last week with victory in the Cross Ouest-France.”
"I think this year I have to work hard. Right now I am in good shape and I will go back home for the Kenyan trials for the World Cross Country Championships in February.”
"Next week I will race in San Sebastian in Spain and I am very hopeful of making the Kenyan side, while I hope to take part in the 5000 metres track event in the Commonwealth Games."
Coilin Duffy for the IAAF
1 M Cullen (IRE), 18:45; 2 A Kalovics (HUN), 19:16; 3 J Sparke (GBR), 19:26; 4 F Britton (IRE), 19:30; 5 H Yelling-Higham (GBR), 19:39; 6 D DiCrescenzo (USA), 19:41; 7 K Wootton (GBR), 19:42; 8 D Byrne (IRL), 19:54; 9 L Kenney (GBR), 19:59; 10 L Deadman (GBR) 20:03.
1 M Kigen (KEN), 27:49; 2 A Vernon (GBR), 28:40; 3 J Luis Barrios (MEX), 28:51; 4 T Mengisteab (ERI), 28:55; 5 M Skinner (GBR), 29:04; 6 M Goose (GBR), 29:24; 7 S Scullion (GBR), 29:43; 8 C Pfigul (AUS), 29:48; 9 D Hawkins (GBR), 29:52; 10 M Mulhare (IRE), 30:01.