Wednesday 18 October 2017

Britton leads Irish charge in World Cross-Country showdown

Ireland are hoping to be in the mix for team bronze today, says Marie Crowe

When team Ireland take to the course at the World Cross-Country Championships in a cold, snowy Poland today they will be sticking to their race-plan.

The five Irish girls have talked about their plan in detail, trained for it and now they must execute it.

"The first part of a cross-country race is the most challenging because everyone takes off quickly, especially the Kenyan and African groups," explained Kevin Ankrom, high-performance director.

"But the girls have a race plan, it's a long course, the conditions are torrid and they have to stick to it. Fionnuala Britton and Mary Cullen are probably going to be ahead of Lizzie Lee, Ava Hutchinson and Linda Byrne but as we saw at the European Cross-Country, Fionnuala will run her individual race plan and the others will kind of pack together and more than likely you will see Mary Cullen take off at some stage."

Although the weather conditions in Poland will prove challenging for the athletes, Ankrom believes that they could work in Ireland's favour.

"We are actually better prepared because we have to deal with the unpredictable weather regularly. We are always dealing with tough conditions where as the Kenyans are always dealing with nice weather conditions."

Kenya and Ethiopia are expected to take the first two places in Poland today, leaving the rest of the field battling for the bronze medal. Ireland along with Uganda, Japan, Spain, Bahrain, France and the USA are all in contention.

However, team Ireland are going into today's race with confidence after their gold medal win at the European Cross-Country Championships. Indeed, they are better equipped for this race with the winning experience of the Europeans under their belts. Also they have a fit Mary Cullen in their side and an even more confident Britton – who finished in 16th place in the same race in 2011 – as their leader.

"They are a team, they have a leader in Fionnuala and you need that within a team," said Ankrom. "Fionnuala has come as the leader as she did at the Europeans and she comes in with even more credibility after the Indoors. I think she is a quiet leader, she's not a boisterous leader but you can lead by saying little. With the girls themselves there is a good camaraderie, they are a team.

"They are coming in with confidence knowing they can compete. A lot of people globally will say World Cross-Country is one of the toughest competitions around because of the dominance of the Africans but now you're seeing some really tough conditions that will suit us."

Ankrom and Athletics Ireland are in the final stages of appointing a National Endurance coach. In fact they have narrowed it down to just two applicants from 20. They expect to make their final decision this week and in turn they hope to develop endurance running in Ireland. "We are looking at some endurance carding specifically with a programme around that and with some funding and camps.

"As we roll out our hp plan for this year which will be over the next few weeks they will be some of the initiatives. We're putting investment into endurance because we can be successful at it."

World Cross-Country C'ships,

RTE 2, 12.0

Irish Independent

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