Many of Europe’s top long distance runners, and a handful of African stars gather in Istanbul on Sunday (4), in fields overlooking the Sea of Marmara, for one of the biggest events on the European sports calendar – the European Champion Clubs Cross Country Cup.
Now approaching its 30th year, this team championships has long been the province of Western European clubs, principally those from Spain, Portugal, Italy and France. But Turkish clubs took the junior team prizes last year, and the Directorate of Sports for the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality duly applied to organise the event, and demonstrate that, while membership of the European Union might still be a long way off for Turkey, the sports community has long been integral to Europe.
Despite losing their guest star, Eritrean Zersenay Tedesse, who won the individual title last year, CA Adidas Spain, with track and road running luminaries like José Rios, Julio Rey, Alberto Garcia, and Eliseo Martin is favourite to repeat last year’s victory on home territory in Caçeres.
Portuguese club, GDRC, with Luis Jesus, Eduardo Henriques and Paulo Gomes, all in the top ten last year, should again challenge the Spaniards; while an assembly of Kenyans and North Africans have given a whole new dimension to the French Foreign Legion, whose club, Athlétisme Légion Etrangère represents France.
Local interest will centre on Phaustin Baha of Tanzania, the world junior record for the half-marathon (59:38), who joined Turkish champions, Kocaeli Büyüksehir Belediyesi in September.
Last year’s silver medallist, Julie Coulaud of France is favourite for the women’s race, in the absence of last year’s winner, Maria Konovalova, and the Russian’s Club Moscow, who won the team race will be challenged by Spanish club, Valencia CA, who have enlisted former Olympic 10,000 metres champion, Fernanda Moreira, formerly Ribeiro.
Turkish runners, Adem Belir of Erzurum Turk Telecom and Dilek Cimenkaya of Besiktas are the highest finishers from last year, still eligible for Sunday’s junior events.
Pat Butcher for the IAAF