Irish runners face savage test in Bulgaria

Fionnuala Britton and Europe’s best distance runners face one of the most challenging courses in European Cross-Country Championship history in Bulgaria tomorrow.

Set in the Rila mountains, in the ski resort of Borovets, the course has already had to be readjusted due to some parts being deemed too dangerous.

The route opens with a bottleneck start on uneven terrain layered with a mixture of mud, gravel and sand. Add 1,350m altitude to the mix and you have a stern test.

The snow covered mountains in the Samokov region have been thawing out due to rising temperatures which are expected to reach 8-9 degrees celsius on race day.

The staff marking the course have had to travel by foot with the routes proving too muddy to traverse by vehicle.

“It’s the toughest course I’ve ever seen,” remarked one of the professional course markers for European Athletics. “It has made it more difficult for us to lay out the course because the organisation has been poor in laying out the routes.

The athletes on the six-race programme – with full Irish teams (36 athletes) competing in the men’s and women’s junior, U23 and senior races – will have to be sure they pick the correct spike length. With challenges also come opportunities and this will be a chance for Irish athletes and non-track specialists to excel.

Fionnuala Britton’s odds will be lowering as the course gets sloppier with the raising temperatures. The diminutive Wicklow woman will be looking to put her slight frame and economic style to good use as track specialists such as Meraf Bahta, European 5,000m champion, of Sweden will most certainly struggle on the difficult surface.

Other Irish runners looking to excel include Kevin Mulcaire in the junior men’s race and Kevin Batt in the senior men’s race. Mulcaire (Ennis Track) has been in excellent form this season, dominating the Irish junior trial and finishing third in the British trial.

Kevin Batt (DSD) returns from America having run in muddy conditions in the NCAA Divisions II Cross Country Championships for Adams State last week.

Based at altitude in Colarado, he should be capable of a top 15 finish.

The senior men’s race looks set to be dominated by African runners again with defending champion Alemayehu Bezabeh (formerly of Ethiopia) of Spain returning. Turkey will have last year’s silver medallist Polat Kemboi Arikan and last year’s junior champion Ali Kaya (both formerly of Kenya) running in the senior race.

Great Britain’s Andy Vernon, l bronze medallist last year, will not be running due to a hamstring injury.

The event will be broadcast in ten different countries with RTÉ 2 broadcasting the senior races live from 10.55am to 1pm.


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