As the European Cross Country Championships in Samorin, Slovakia loom ever-closer, the chance for athletes in Yorkshire to take on the rest of the continent lies just one race away, as this year’s European trials begin in Liverpool today.
The race itself is part of British Athletics’ five race Cross Challenge series and, as far as Yorkshire is concerned, has drawn a vast mix of different runners from across the county all keen to do battle against the best in the Britain.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Senior and Under-23 women’s race, which sees track stars like Olympian Laura Weightman and 800m runner Alexandra Bell, to international mountain medallists Emma Clayton and Georgia Malir all down as competing.
Leeds City athlete Claire Duck, however, will be the favourite of the Yorkshire athletes to bag another British vest, after earning the British captaincy at last season’s World Cross Country Championships despite a disappointing European trials race.
The 32-year-old has made her aims of boarding the plane this time clear, but knows that she is in for a tough showdown, with “lots of really strong women” standing in her way.
Amongst them is multiple European gold medallist and Cross Challenge champion Jessica Judd, who has once again stood tall above the rest in more ways than one. Still an Under 23 and unbeaten so far this season, a place in Europe looks like hers to lose, while close rival and former European champion Gemma Steel also remains one of the key favourites to take the senior women’s race.
Last year’s runner up in the trials Charlotte Arter also remains firmly in the mix, with British Internationals Steph Twell and Katrina Wootton also among the big senior names gunning for the GB vest.
A tough test also awaits British Universities Cross Country winner Emile Cairess in the Under 23 race. The Leeds City runner is yet to have competed at cross country this season, with his opening race seeing him take on European Under 20 bronze medallist and winner in the Milton Keynes race Mahamed Mahamed, as well as British international and National Cross Country Champion Ellis Cross.
While certainly up against it, the open, ‘take no prisoners’ nature of Cross Country will certainly hold a lot of promise for current Yorkshire champion Cairess.
After spending most of 2017 out, the Under-20 men’s race sees a return to competitive action for European Youth 800m champion George Mills, son of former Leeds United defender Danny. Another second generation athlete in Jonathan Shields will also be after a return to international running, following in the footsteps of his mother and two-time Olympian Jane.
The Sheffield runner claimed an unexpected victory for Yorkshire at last season’s Inter-Counties Cross Country Championships and in turn earned a second British vest and a trip, along with Duck, to the World Championships.
An almost seamless step up to Under-17s this year also sees City of York’s Joshua Dickinson make the trip to Liverpool as a favourite to win, with the Under-15 inter-counties winner earning two second-placed finishes in both Cross Challenge races so far.
His close friend Ethan Hussey will also have strong hopes in the Under-15s race, after a strong track season full of medals has seen the Leeds City athlete carry his fine form into cross country with a relatively comfortable victory in Cardiff’s Cross Challenge opener as well as a runner’s up place in Milton Keynes behind Mohamed Ali.
Big names, big prizes and big confrontations are therefore promised today when the best in Yorkshire once again take on the best in Britain. And despite the cross country season still having many more races left to go, the European trials still stand out as one of the biggest of them all.