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Fionnuala leads Velenje assault

Fionnuala Britton is Ireland's best chance of a medal at tomorrow's Spar European Cross-Country Championships in Velenje, Slovenia.

Only two weeks ago, Britton beat Binnaz Uslu of Turkey, the woman who out-sprinted her for the bronze medal last year.

Uslu, a previous junior and U23 champion, is at her best in the kind of tough conditions expected in Velenje.

However, Britton, who has already qualified for the steeplechase at London 2012, also thrives in tough, sticky conditions.

Last year's winner, Jessica Augusto of Portugal, although expected to defend her title, is still recovering after her shock exit at the New York Marathon early last month.

Augusto pulled up just after 30km in New York, with her friend Ana Dulce Félix, who had dropped out of the Big Apple race a year earlier, coming home fourth in a personal best of 2:25.40.

Félix was third in Albufeira last year and both women are part of a Portuguese squad aiming to win the team title for a fourth consecutive year.


In the senior men's race, defending champion Serhiy Lebid of Ukraine, now aged 36, is aiming for a 10th title.

DSD's Joe Sweeney leads the Irish team.

The Irish U23 men's team caused something of a shock when they beat France to the gold last year, despite not having a single top-10 finisher.

They will be hard pressed tomorrow by a French team led by current European U23 1,500m champion Florian Carvalho, who won the junior men's race in 2008.

Also looking ominous is a Spanish team that includes last year's junior champion men's winner, Abdelaziz Merzougui, and the European U23 steeplechase champion, Sebastián Martos.

Turkey's Meryem Erdogan will defend her women's U23 title despite being troubled by an Achilles injury.

Irish intercounty champion Sarah Louise Treacy (Moynalvey) has opted to run in this race.

Many times Irish age group champion Siofra Cléirigh-Buttner makes her debut in the women's junior race.

Also on the Irish team is World Youth 5,000m walk champion Kate Veale of West Waterford.

Irish viewers can watch the action on RTé2 tomorrow from 12.25pm, while, all six races can be seen live on the European Athletics website.