Fionnuala McCormack faces up to Turkish nemesis again

Fionnuala McCormack will have to overcome her Turkish nemesis at the European Cross Country Championships in Chia, Italy, tomorrow.

The proliferation of Kenyan athletes representing Turkey in recent years has made a mockery of the European Championships both on the track and cross country.

It brought McCormack (Kilcoole) to the end of her tether last July when Turkey’s Yasemin Can, formerly Vivian Jemutai, left her fourth over 10,000m on the track at the Europeans in Amsterdam.

“It’s the exact same every fucking time,” she blew in frustration afterwards in the mixed zone. “It’s a joke and I am not just saying this because I came fourth.”

Can had only become eligible to compete for Turkey back in March with no ties to the country. It continued a trend of Kenyan athletes who have started competing for Turkey for big cash rewards despite no affiliation or residency in the country.

Ali Kaya and Polat Arikan Kemboi are two prominent examples on the men’s side. Kaya won the senior men’s title last in Hyeres, France, last year but isn’t down to compete this year.

“There doesn’t seem to be anything that can be done about it,” McCormack said at the time with regards the weak residency rule.

“People have taken such a soft approach. Once you’ve represented one country past a certain age that should be your country for life.”

There are, of course, genuine cases of migration such as the Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan who won the women’s race last year. Hassan left Ethiopia around the age of 12 and has been a product of the Dutch system where she resides. Hassan will not defend her title, however

Can will be joined in Turkish colours on the start line in Chia by another Kenyan recruit, Meryem Akda.

McCormack will also face Norway’s Karoline Grovdal who won bronze in Hyeres last year and finished third in that 10,000m in Amsterdam.

The Irish team have won bronze for the last two years running and McCormack will be supported this weekend by Shona Heaslip (An Riocht), Kerry O’Flaherty (Newcastle), Ciara Mageean (UCD), Laura Crowe (An Riocht), and Michelle Finn (Leevale). Mageean will be hoping the firm surface will suit her in Chia in an effort to replicate her junior form over cross-country where she finished 7th in 2010.

The Portaferry woman has been returning to her cross-country roots properly since getting into a full rhythm and an injury-free build-up. The team has added experience in O’Flaherty and Finn, who impressed in the summer in the 3,000m steeplechase, having made the European final and competed in the Olympics.

An experienced senior men’s team will be led by Mark Christie (Mullingar Harriers) who won the Irish Life Health National Cross Country Championships impressively. Christie has had a hiatus from the European cross since 2010 but has plenty of experience to produce a solid showing alongside Mick Clohisey (Raheny Shamrock), Mark Hanrahan (Leevale), Liam Brady (Tullamore Harriers), Paul Pollock (Annadale Striders), and Kevin Dooney (Raheny Shamrock).

It will be a case of blooding the next generation in the U23 and junior races. Bethanie Murray (DSD) and Amy O’Donoghue (Emerald) will lead Irish hopes in the women’s U23 race with Karl Fitzmaurice (Ennis Track) and Mitchell Byrne (Rathfarnham) representing in the men’s U23 race.

In the juniors, Jack O’Leary (Mullingar Harriers AC) finished 23rd last year with Peter Lynch (Kilkenny City Harriers AC), Darragh McElhinney (Bantry AC), Fearghal Curtin (Youghal AC), Barry Keane (Waterford AC), and Charlie O’Donovan (Leevale AC) looking to gain further experience of such high-profile events.

Sophie Murphy (Dundrum South Dublin AC) finished 54th in the junior race and will be aiming to improve on that position with Amy Rose Farrell (Blackrock AC), Emma O’Brien (Inbhear Dee AC/Sli Cualann), Carla Sweeney (WSAFAC), Jodie McCann (Dundrum South Dublin AC), and Aisling Joyce (Claremorris AC) sampling this level of competition.

The European Cross Country Championships will be televised on RTÉ 2 from 11am.


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