Cragg bids to get his season back on the road

ALISTAIR CRAGG wants to spearhead the Irish challenge at next month’s European cross-country championships and the European indoor championships in Birmingham in early March when he will defend his 3,000m title — his big priority.

However his immediate programme depends entirely on how he performs in Thursday’s Manchester Road Race in Connecticut. This will be his first major assignment since being stretchered off the track during the final of the 5,000m at the European championships.

The big Thanksgiving showpiece has always had a huge Irish interest. Mark Carroll won the race twice and his Leevale clubmate, Marcus O’Sullivan, also won it twice, while John Treacy and John Doherty won it and it was once dominated by Eamonn Coghlan.

Last year Alistair Cragg finished second to Nick Willis from New Zealand and he insisted yesterday that he wants to improve on that placing by one.

“I am really excited about the race,” he said, speaking from the Wabash

Valley Family Sports Centre in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he was assistant coach to the Arkansas team at the NCAA cross-country championships.

“This is a great race and it has always had very big Irish support,” he said. “This goes back to Eamonn Coghlan who was a big favourite there.

“It is a race I would love to win and I said last year that I would come back and try to win it this year. Nick Willis is not defending the title but there is a very strong field.

“And my preparations have been limited to six weeks. I have only been back training since the end of September and I have just had one race.

“That was a cross-country race in Arkansas and I was pretty happy with the way I ran. There was a bunch of Kenyans there and they took it out pretty fast and I just ran along behind them.”

He was bitterly disappointed after he was forced to drop out of the final of the men’s 5,000m at the European Track and Field Championships in Gothenburg last August.

He travelled with an Achilles tendon injury that flared up during the race and he bounced off the track just after making what had all the appearances of a winning move and was taken away on a stretcher.

“I owe it to Irish fans after that,” he said. “It has been bothering me ever since. If things go well in the Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving Day I will run in the European Cross-Country Championships in Italy in December.

“On the training I have done, while I feel pretty good, I need this race to tell me exactly where I’m at. I just want to see how I handle this race. But I want to run in Italy and my coach has been talking to Athletics Ireland about that.”

Two years ago he won the 3,000m at the European indoor championships in Madrid and he wants to defend that title in Birmingham the first weekend in March.

“That is definitely a big priority with me,” he said. “I have been thinking about it for some time now and it is something I want to do for Ireland.”

Mark Carroll, who retired from track competition this year, will return to compete in the Manchester Road Race on Thursday and is due back in Cork at the weekend.

The big threat to Alistair Cragg could come from Alan Webb, American’s leading miler, who broke Jim Ryun’s 36-year-old high school record for the mile when he ran 3:53 as a schoolboy. Now 23, he has personal records of 1:46.53 for 800m and 3:50.73 for the mile.

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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