McCormack shows European title form as Christie falls in love again
Fionnuala McCormack destroyed a high-quality field at the Alcobendas Cross Internacional de la Constitucion in Spain yesterday, demonstrating the kind of form that could see her claim a third European Cross Country title in Italy next month.
The Wicklow woman hit the front on the first lap and steadily burned off her competitors during the 8,400m contest. She came home in splendid isolation in 28:18, a whopping 38 seconds ahead of Ethiopia's Etenesh Diro - an athlete of impressive calibre who clocked 14:33 for 5,000m in September.
McCormack last won the European title in 2012, but should now feel capable of repeating that feat at this year's edition on December 11.
Back at home, her absence from the National Cross Country Championships in Abbotstown paved the way for Shona Heaslip of An Ríocht to take a surprise win in the women's race.
"It's crazy to think," said Heaslip (22), who combines running with professional dancing. "I've cut back (dancing) and just been running for the last four weeks.
"I was told not to go out too hard today, to take the first two laps steady then move through the field, but I felt good and it paid off."
Heaslip surged away from UCD's Ciara Mageean on the final lap to win in 28:13, 10 seconds clear of Kerry O'Flaherty, who surged past Mageean in the home straight.
In the men's race, Mullingar's Mark Christie rolled back the years to take gold in decisive fashion. The 31-year-old had drifted away from his best form in recent years, but proved the permanency of his class to reclaim the title in 30:41.
The race boiled down to three athletes, with Mark Hanrahan and Mick Clohisey up with Christie at the head of the field with two laps to run.
However, neither could offer any resistance when Christie landed the knockout punch on the final lap, and the Mullingar man came home well clear of Clohisey (30:53) and Hanrahan (30:57).
"I'm really happy with that," said Christie. "I fell out of love with cross country and haven't run it in a few years, but it was 10 years since I won this so I gave myself a target.
"I watched the Rio Olympics and it's bittersweet to watch something like that, so it's good to be back running with those lads today."
Christie will now lead the Irish team at the European Cross Country next month, but says his future plans remain uncertain.
"I'd like to run well there and after that, who knows how many track days I have left?" he said. "Maybe I can have a proper go at the marathon."
Clohisey led Raheny to their first team title in over a decade, while Dundrum South Dublin took the senior women's title.
Mullingar's Jack O'Leary, now studying at Iona in New York, shook off the jetlag to win the junior men's race, while Sophie Murphy of DSD took the junior women's.
Bethanie Murray of Dundrum took the women's U-23 title, with the men's equivalent going to Karl Fitzmaurice of Ennis.