Battling Brittonin medal hunt

FIONNUALA BRITTON will line up as one of the medal favourites alongside Turkey’s Binniz Uslu and Portugal’s Ana Dulce Félix for the European cross-country championships in Velenje, Slovenia tomorrow.

In the absence of defending champion, Jessica Augusto (Portugal), who is recovering from her New York Marathon trip, the next three across the line in Albufeira in the senior event last year remain the best bets for podium glory.

In Albufeira, Uslu produced a storming finish to snatch silver while Felix overtook the Irish woman for the bronze.

Uslu, 26 won the junior women’s title in 2004, the U23 gold medal two years later and the powerfully built Turk can now become the first athlete to win all three titles.

Britton though will be keen to end that bid for history. She was the first European when she finished sixth in the IAAF cross-country in Burgos, Spain, and was first European again in the Cross de Lacier, France where she finished third on the same day that Uslu struggled home in fourth in the European Athletics Cross Country Permit Race in Tilburg.

Félix is also a huge a threat, having been the first European women home in the New York Marathon (2:25:40) and the winning the 22nd Cross da Amora in Portugal.

If the race pans out as expected — don’t forget that temperatures have been as low as -5 degrees in Slovenia in recent times — then it could be another exciting finish between Uslu, Felix and Britton and the form might just point to the Irish woman in such a contest.

However, one would also have to include the Morocco-born Italian runner, Nadia Ejjafini, who won the 28th Cross Internacional Valle de Llodio in Spain by 27 seconds and the Dutch runner, Adriënne Herzog, the 2009 bronze medallist in Dublin.

While Britton was racing in France, Sara Louise Treacy claimed the Woodies DIY national inter-counties championship title in Sligo. She has opted for the U23 race tomorrow and her performance in the mud on Sligo Racecourse would indicate that she can be a force.

Joe Sweeney finished 21st in the senior men’s race in Albufeira last year when underfoot conditions were fast. He was equally impressive in the mud in Sligo two weeks ago with coach, Jerry Kiernan insisting he is stronger this year.

Kiernan said: “He was 21st last year — only 38 seconds behind the winner and I know from his training workouts that he is at least 20 seconds better than he was 12 months ago. Of course a lot could depend on how the race is run in Slovenia. He could find himself sucked into a fast early pace but he is definitely much stronger this year.”

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