(Incorporating the UK Cross Challenge) In conjunction with ‘Awards For All’ and ‘Belfast City Council’
Saturday’s Stormont International Cross Country races promises to be the most fascinating in a number of years. They feature world stars from Africa plus the cream of a selection of Irish and British Internationals (International events start at 2:10pm). The organisers are clearly delighted that the quality of the fields are as high as ever after some 30 years which have featured household names such as Paula Radcliffe, Steve Cram, Steve Ovett, John Tracey, Liz McColgan, Katrina McKiernan plus a host of others.
The main interest will again centre on the women’s 5.6K race where ETALEMAHU KIDANE OF Ethiopia will be aiming for a hat-trick of victories following narrow one second wins in each of the last two years. However, the former World Bronze medallist may have her work cut out to defeat in-form team mate TEYIBA ERKESSO who successfully defended her Brussels International title 2 weeks ago against high class opposition.
To add to the mix, recently crowned European U23 Cross Country champion BINNAZ USLU will also be taking the start line at Stormont. The 21 year old holds the Turkish junior 800m record and is the current European U23 5000m champion. On December 10th in Italy she was a convincing winner from Ireland’s silver medallist Fionnuala Britton who has now unfortunately pulled out of the Stormont event. BRITTON would in any event have been hard pushed to have as the first Irish runner on Saturday as the field will include arch rival MARY CULLEN. In last years Stormont race, US based CULLEN of Providence College was the only European athlete to mix it with a trio of Ethiopians who eventually took the medal positions. At Stormont she will be hoping to improve on her 14th position in Italy where she finished over a minute ahead of the next Irish finisher. Last year CULLEN had a string of personal bests both indoors and outdoors culminating in a place in the European 5000m final in Gothenburg in August. Earlier in January she recorded the World’s 4th fastest 5000m indoors time of 2006 when winning in the famous Boston meeting.
In the Men’s event, latest Ethiopian star IBRAHIM JEYLAN has already shown at the tender age of 17 that he has the potential to become one of the youngest medallists ever at next August’s World Championships in Osaka. The current world junior and Ethiopian 10,000m champion caused a major sensation in Brussels last August when he recorded 27.02.81; the fourth best time in the world last year which was an Ethiopian Junior and World Youth Record. With such performances he could be a worthy opponent to take on his great team mate Bekele in Japan.
However, other established cross country names may well lead the way at Stormont. Current African 10,000m champion MOSES KIPSIRO of Uganda only lost last year by 1 second. He will be a major threat along with TADESSE TOLA of Ethiopia who finished third in Brussels two weeks ago. Also racing is Commonwealth 10,000m Bronze medallist FABIANO JOSEPH of Tanzania who was second at Stormont 3 years ago behind the great Paul Tergat.
Irish competitors GARY MURRAY, MARK KENNEALLY and VINNY MULVEY all finished in the top 40 in Italy and will be hoping to improve further at Stormont.
Racing at Stormont which is sponsored by Awards For all and Belfast City Council commences at 11.00am with Age Group races.
1. The Belfast International Cross Country Race has taken place for the last 29 years and for the last 7 in the Stormont Estate. It is one of the largest and most popular event in the Northern Ireland athletics sporting calendar with over 1000 competitors taking place in 12 races throughout the day for age groups Senior, Veteran, Under 20, Under 17, Under 15 and Under 13.
2. The Belfast International is part of the UK Cross Country Challenge where competitors can enter a series of races in Birmingham, Liverpool, Cardiff, Nottingham and Belfast. With up to £10,000 of prizes on offer, the new winter's Challenge guarantees some fantastic racing.
3. Visit the NI Athletics website- www.niathletics.org for further information.
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