Benita Willis in action at the World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Mottram and Willis to lead Australian World Cross Country squad - Punta Umbria 2011

Distance icons Craig Mottram and Benita Willis will spearhead a team of 16 athletes selected to represent Australia at the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain, on 20 March.??

Mottram’s selection marks the first time the national 5000m record holder will line up for Australia at a world championships meet since placing 31st at the World Cross Country championships in Edinburgh in 2008.??

The seven-time World Cross Country Championships representative will be joined on the start line of the senior men’s race by Commonwealth Games 5000m and 10,000m representatives Collis Birmingham and Ben St Lawrence, fellow Australian Flame athlete David McNeill and Cross Country guns Liam Adams and Clinton Perrett.??

Today’s team announcement follows the national selection trials at Stromlo Forest Park in Canberra at the weekend, where national 10,000m record-holder Collis Birmingham earned automatic selection to the team with victory over the 12km course in a time of 35:09.20 ahead of Commonwealth Games Marathon silver medallist Michael Shelley (35:12.10), Adams (35:59.20), St Lawrence (36:23.60) and Perrett (36:30.00).??

Shelley, who will contest next month’s Beppu-Oita Marathon in Japan, declined to nominate for the event. Mottram and McNeill were named to the six-man squad at the selectors’ discretion after bypassing Sunday’s trial.??

Toby Rayner, who placed sixth at Stromlo Forest Park on Sunday (36:46.3), has been named as reserve to the senior men’s team.??

In the women’s division, 2004 World Cross Country champion Benita Willis will line up alongside four-time World Cross Country representative Lara Tamsett, national 10,000m champion Eloise Wellings, dual World Cross Country teams bronze medallist Anna Thompson (2006, 2008) and World Cross Country debutante Kaila McKnight.??

In eight appearances at the World Cross Country since her debut in 2001, Willis has never finished outside the top 20. In addition to her gold medal victory in Brussels in 2004, the 30-year-old Victorian took home bronze in the teams category in 2006 and again in 2008.??

Young gun Lara Tamsett gained automatic selection to the team following her win at Stromlo Forest Park at the weekend, crossing the line of the 8km course in a time of 27:05.60, 40 seconds clear of Thompson (27:45.10) and 1500m specialist McKnight (27:49.10), who turned on the surprise performance of the day to earn selection to her first World Cross Country squad.??

Athletics Australia National Distance Coordinator Tim O’Shaughnessy said the 2011 team was one of the strongest assembled in recent years.??

“The men’s team is one of the strongest we’ve had for a number of years with Craig Mottram back in the team for the first time since 2008 and then with Collis Birmingham’s continued improvement, he’ll certainly be looking to his best-ever performance at a world cross country championships,” he said.??

“Liam Adams had a breakthrough run at the world cross country titles last year, Clint Perrett will be better for the experience of running at these championships in 2010, and with David McNeill and Ben St Lawrence in the team we’re very pleased with the depth of the men’s squad.??

“For the women, Benita Willis is performing well in Europe at the moment and she’ll be well-supported by Eloise Wellings and Anna Thompson, both consistent performers at these championships.??

“Kaila McKnight is a wildcard after running very well at the trial and Lara Tamsett is really focusing on Spain this year and looking to break into the top 20, so with the group that’s been selected we’re hopeful of a top-six finish in the women’s team event.”

??Juniors Hugh Williams, Joshua Johnson, Glen Yarham and Ethan Heywood have been selected to contest the junior men’s 8km race and Celia Sullohern will fly the flag for Australia in the junior women’s 6km event.??

Australia has won three medals at the IAAF World Cross Country championships in the meet’s 39-year history, Willis taking gold in 2004 and the senior women’s teams of 2006 and 2008 each taking bronze.

Team members -

??Senior men – 12km (6):?
Liam Adams (24, Vic)
?Collis Birmingham (26, Vic)
?Craig Mottram (30, Vic)
?David McNeill (24, Vic)
Clinton Perrett (27, Vic)?
Ben St Lawrence (29, NSW)?
Reserve: Toby Rayner (24, Vic)??

Senior women – 8km (5):?
Kaila McKnight (24, Vic)
?Lara Tamsett (22, NSW)
?Anna Thompson (34, Vic)
?Eloise Wellings (28, NSW)?
Benita Willis (30, Vic)??

Junior men – 8km (4):
?Ethan Heywood (18, NSW)
?Joshua Johnson (18, WA)
?Hugh Williams (18, Qld)?
Glen Yarham (18, Qld)??

Junior women – 6km (1):?
Celia Sullohern (18, NSW)

Athletics Australia for the IAAF