The likelihood of an Irish women’s team competing at the World Cross-Country Championships in Poland next March remains a distant one, despite the insistence of Athletics Ireland officials they remain open to the idea.
The body’s high performance director, Kevin Ankrom, had previously indicated his support and he was backed in that by chief executive John Foley yesterday at the launch of the Spar Great Ireland Run in Dublin.
However, both men have also pointed out that some members of the team which claimed team gold at the European Cross-Country outside Budapest last month have indicated they have other imminent plans over longer distances.
Fionnuala Britton, who issued the call last week for an Irish team to line up in Poland, alluded to Paula Radcliffe, who has run cross-country and a marathon in quick succession in the past, but believes it should fall on athletics officials to kickstart the process of sending a team, or not, as the case may be.
“When we ran the European Cross, we knew from after the Olympics what we were aiming for,” said the double European champion. “It probably is a bit too late to aim for a world cross now but I still think that we could have a team that could be competitive if we wanted it to be.”
Planning, she added, was the key.
“It’s not the athletes who are going to start the planning process, it’s somebody who has to bring all the athletes together and decide that this is what we are all going to aim for, like we did with the Europeans.”
Of her colleagues who claimed team gold in Hungary, Ava Hutchinson’s focus now is on the track, Lizzie Lee’s is on the marathon while Linda Byrne said that she would be available for Poland if a strong team was available.
While it appears unlikely that Europe’s champions will field a team at the global event, it was suggested that the Inter Club AAI Cross-Country Championships next month could be used as a de facto trial.
Other athletes such as Mary Cullen or Fiona Roche would also be afforded the opportunity to make a case for inclusion, with the suggestion being that a competitive team could still be sent if times posted were deemed to be fast enough.
“I will have that specific discussion with the high performance director,” said Foley, “but for us to go to the World Cross-Country Championships with a team that could perform well, I think we would need the nucleus of this particular team.”
Team or no team, Britton will be lining up in Poland, but only after a detour through what will be just her second stab at an indoor season, which will peak in Gothenburg at the start of March with the European Indoor Championships.
Inexperienced in that scenario she may be, but the 28-year old still had to field a question at yesterday’s launch of the Spar Great Ireland Run about the possibility of medalling in Sweden and claiming a top 10 in Poland.
“It is probably like doing a World Cross and then doing a marathon. If you are in really good shape, you can race anything and one is going to be a stepping stone to the other. But whatever happens in between is a bonus.”
Poland remains the focus, however. A top 10 finish there would be a standout achievement given the African dominance, but Britton believes it is possible for a white athlete to medal.
“Well, Shalane Flanagan (from the USA) won a medal in the last one so everyone has to believe that they can do it. Obviously it is difficult but it is world championship so it is not supposed to be easy.”
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