European champion Fionnuala Britton leads Irish hopes in Antrim

Fionnuala Britton
Fionnuala Britton

World champions, European and Commonwealth stars and the cream of British and Irish talent will be at Greenmount Campus on Saturday for the 37th IAAF Antrim Cross Country International.

The spectacular, sponsored by Antrim Borough Council and Sport NI, is organised by Athletics Northern Ireland and includes the Celtic International and the Northern Ireland and Ulster Championships.

It is also the third round of the British Athletics Cross Challenge.

The women’s race looks to be the greatest line-up in the long history of the meeting as double European champion Fionnuala Britton goes for a hat trick of victories at this venue.

The Kilcoole runner was disappointed with her fourth place in the Europeans in December and will be keen to get revenge over Gemma Steel who took silver in that race.

Gemma from Charnwood was runner-up to Fionnuala in Antrim two years ago. She came first in Liverpool and is in superb form.

Almensh Belete from Belgium sixth in the Europeans and 17th in the world, Eunice Kalas of Kenya placed fifth in Antrim last time while Charlotte Purdue, recovered from long term injuries, was the winner in 2011.

One very interesting entry is double world 1,500 champion Maryam Jamal of Bahrain. She has not run much of the country but is a world class athlete.

Sarah Tracey, marathon star Freya Ross, Julie Potter and Stevie Stockton will all feature while defending champion Gladys Ganiel-O’Neill will dispute the Northern Ireland and Ulster crown with Breege Connolly, Anne Marie McGlynn, Danielle Fegan and Mary Margaret Meade. North Belfast and Lagan Valley should be top teams.

The men’s line-up is headed by Japhet Korir of Kenya who became the youngest ever world champion when he took the title in Poland in the spring at just 19 years of age. He has suffered from injury but showed his recovery by taking third in Seville recently one place behind compatriot Emmanuel Bett also in action on Saturday.

Thomas Ayeko from Uganda is the defending Greenmount champion. He was a finalist over 10,000 metres in both Olympics and Worlds and set a best over 10 miles at Portsmouth behind Bett.

Andy Vernon is the leading British runner at the moment. He took the bronze medal in Europe and knows todays course well finishing second in 2010 and third last year.

Three more Kenyans Cornelius Kangogo, Clement Kemboi and Titus Mbishei will all challenge along with Moroccan title holder Aziz Lahbabi.

Irish Inter Counties champion Paul Pollock and Northern Ireland and Ulster winner Stephen Scullion head the home challenge and are both capable of top ten finishes.

Former winners Joe McAllister and Gary Murray plus 2012 Irish champion Eddie McGinley will also feature with Annadale led by Pollock and McGinley and City of Derry the fancied teams.

The first of 12 races is at 11am with the international women at 2.25pm and men at 2.50pm.