A showdown between Kate Avery and Fionnuala McCormack in a highly competitive women’s race at the Antrim International Cross Country promises to be the highlight of the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in Greenmount on Saturday (16).
Ireland’s McCormack, who has won the race twice in the past, takes on two other previous winners, Bahrain’s Mimi Belete and defending champion Birtukan Fente Alemu of Ethiopia along with the recent addition of Great Britain’s European cross-country silver medallist Kate Avery to the start list.
Last week Avery defeated McCormack by four seconds over 6km at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country in Holyrood Park. Avery will be the favourite over the 5.6km course in Antrim, having made light of the difficult conditions last week with a commanding performance in the second half of the race.
"I found the course difficult as I prefer firmer conditions,” Avery said of Edinburgh, but she will face similar conditions on Saturday with the course set to be tricky underfoot along with challenging weather conditions.
The British athlete last raced in Antrim in 2010, finishing 11th behind winner Mary Cullen, but Avery has markedly improved since then. She narrowly missed a medal when taking fourth place over 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games and just missed out on the 2014 European cross-country title. Avery took another silver medal at last month’s European Cross Country Championships behind Sifan Hassan.
McCormack will be keen to avenge last week’s defeat with her form very much on the rise since her 2:33:15 clocking at the Chicago Marathon last October. Since then she has finished fourth at the European Cross Country Championships, guiding the Irish women to team bronze medals, won at the Iris Lotto CrossCup in Brussels last month and finished second in Edinburgh last week.
“It was one place off where I really wanted to end up,” said McCormack about her Edinburgh performance. “I knew what I needed to do but I just didn’t do it. At least second is better than fourth (her position at the European Cross Country Championships).”
This will be the Irish woman’s last cross-country race of the season before returning her attentions to the roads with the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff in March her next big goal.
Belgium’s European under-23 cross-country champion Louise Carton will also be looking to be in the mix.
Ayeko looking for third Antrim win
The men's 10.8km race is shaping up to be a battle between defending champion Thomas Ayeko, Italy’s two-time European junior cross-country champion Yeman Crippa and Bahrain’s Aweke Ayelew.
Ayeko was a convincing winner in Amorebieta last weekend. The Ugandan will be hoping for a third victory in Antrim; if he achieves his goal, he will become just the second man in the history of the event to win three times in the Northern Irish town.
Crippa successfully defended his European cross-country title last month with an emphatic display of front running. The Italian, who also won a bronze medal over 5000m at the European Junior Championships in Sweden last summer, has been transitioning to the senior ranks and finished eighth at the Cross Campaccio in San Giorgio su Legnano earlier this month.
There will also be stiff competition from 22-year-old Ayelew, who finished 10th at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Guiyang 2015, and Kenya's Timothy Cheruiyot, who finished seventh in the 1500m at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015.
This is the 39th year of the event and the organisers have returned the Antrim meeting back to its traditional early January slot.
Feidhlim Kelly for the IAAF