Britton facing stiff test against world-class Greenmount line-up
FIONNUALA Britton is hardly easing herself gently into the new year as it starts with a world-class test at the Cross-Country International in Greenmount, near Ballymena, tomorrow.
Britain's Gemma Steele -- who took silver ahead of her at the European Cross-Countries last month -- is among the high-class field that has been put together for the IAAF-accredited event, which is also part of the British Cross-Country series.
The women's race will also include Britain's Charlotte Purdue, who won the U-23 bronze in Belgrade last month, and Bahrain's Ethiopian-born Maryam Jamal, the 1500m bronze medallist at the London Olympics and a two-time world champion.
Top Belgian international Almensch Belete and Kenya's Eunice Kales are also in a field that will also include Ireland's top triathlete Aileen Reid, running for City of Derry AC.
The high-quality men's race includes reigning world cross-country champion Japhet Korir of Kenya.
Korir caused a big shock when he won the senior title in Poland last year when he was still only 19 -- he became its youngest ever winner.
He has had injury problems since, but seems to be coming back into form, finishing not far off Imane Merga in the Atapuerca in Spain last month.
Also among the impressive list of visitors are Britain's Andy Vernon, who took bronze at Europeans last month; Kenya's Emmanuel Bett, who has run 10km in 28 minutes; Uganda's Thomas Ayeko; and Morocco's Aziz Lahbabi and Kenya's Titus Mbishei, both of whom are former world junior medallists.
Britton will be racing Sophie Duarta -- the French-woman who took her European crown -- in Edinburgh in a week's time, so will be looking to show some sharp form tomorrow in a race she has dominated in recent years.
The Irish women's team will be completed by Sarah Treacy, Ciara Durkan and Ann-Marie McGlynn, while the Mulhare brothers, Mick Clohissey, Paul Pollock and Stephen Scullion are among the men's field.
Elsewhere, Athletics Ireland's new indoor club league starts in Athlone IT's international arena on Sunday at noon.
Club athletes have previously argued that Athletics Ireland doesn't cater for their needs, but communication between both sides appears to have improved considerably since a Facebook campaign brought some focus to club issues in recent months.
The immediate upshot is that a new indoor club league has started to give a better level of domestic competition on the boards.
There will be two rounds, including February 22 (plus the finals on March 16), with three track and two field events per round.
Clubs can enter two teams into each category, with the top six teams contesting the final.
Athletes whose clubs can't get a team together can also compete individually and will also have an opportunity to make the finals.
St Abban's, Le Cheile, Menapians, Craughwell, Raheny Shamrock, Limerick and Leevale have entered male and female teams, while Crusaders and Kilkenny City Harriers have entered men's teams.
Athletics Ireland (AAI) have also taken on board some feedback about the format and timing of the national outdoor club leagues and have committed to holding it closer to the 'nationals' next summer on August 2.
The current format of two rounds and a final with separate men's and women's team has been retained, but AAI seem to have an open mind about its future format and the encouraging thing for club athletes is that dialogue has started and should continue.