Athletics: Scottish quartet are Bulgaria-bound

Callum Hawkins, left, and Andrew Butchart on way to a Scottish 1-2 in Liverpool. Picture: Gus Oakley

Callum Hawkins, left, and Andrew Butchart on way to a Scottish 1-2 in Liverpool. Picture: Gus Oakley

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Scotland’s endurance running community is revelling in a feelgood factor after a series of superb performances at the British Cross Challenge and Euro Trials in Liverpool.

Four Scots – Callum Hawkins, Andrew Butchart, Rhona Auckland and Luke Caldwell – are now guaranteed slots in Team GB and NI at the Euro Cross in Bulgaria in a fortnight.

Steph Twell looks odds-on to join them in the Senior Women’s selection and U20 athlete, Inverlcyde’s Jonny Glen, could yet take the Scottish contingent to six in a British team of 36.

It really was a remarkable overall display with three Scots in the top four of the men’s race as Hawkins beat Butchart in a dramatic finish and Caldwell finished fourth, while, in the women’s, three in the top ten with Auckland third (second U23), Twell in seventh and Eilish McColgan at ninth in a rare cross country outing.

In truth, at least two dozen Scots from U17 age group and upwards could head home from Sefton Park feeling they had more than fulfilled their potential on a day when more than 100 took part in a great show of commitment to competition.

No wonder Liverpool course commentator Geoff Wightman was moved to boom over the sound system: “It’s yet another stunning cross-Border raid from Scotland…”

Hawkins (29.26) will lead the British U23 challenge in Samokov and, like Auckland, could be in contention for the individual medals there.

Hawkins and Butchart were closely matched for most of the race, but it was the Kilbarchan athlete who surged away to guarantee selection for the GB and NI team for the trip to Bulgaria. In an explosive finish by Ross Millington, the Stockport Harrier finished three seconds behind Butchart for a well- deserved third place.

Hawkins said: “I didn’t have a great race in Leeds a couple of weeks ago but I’m really happy that I returned and changed the score this time around. I was thinking he’s tiring (Butchart) so I’ll get him on the corner and maybe get in his head a little bit and it seemed to work.

“I’m really pleased. That’s been my focus since the Commonwealth Games and hopefully I can sneak a medal in Bulgaria. I’ve got the engine to do it.”

Butchart tweeted later: “So happy to get the job done. The Scots do it again! Euro tickets booked.”

Auckland was only just adrift of Emelia Gorecka in a race won well by Gemma Steel. “It was a good race,” said the Edinburgh Uni athlete. “I was just off the pack, out of trouble, but I got a bit annoyed when I realised I’d missed the break. But I picked it up again and caught people.

“The race in Bulgaria is a little bit shorter than here – 6k – but I just want to see if I can improve on the seventh place I managed last year. I have to be pleased I’m getting consistency of GB selection in cross country and it has been a good season so far.”

Twell was fifth in senior women’s terms, outside the guaranteed top four, but is hopeful of a pick with Kate Avery due to come into the six-strong GB team after NCAA victory in the States.

“I feel the Euro Cross is part of my bread and butter, so I’d love to be there again,” said Twell. “I’ve been training well and ran well in the 10K at Leeds but I got a wee bit excited on the run-in and when that happens in cross country my posture goes a little. I am tighter on the track and I did tire a bit. I maybe went too hard, too early.

Glen was sixth in the men’s U20 in terms of eligible British athletes and thus looks to have a decent case for selection for Bulgaria. It was a brave effort by the Inverclyde athlete as he came through from around 20th place at halfway.

Kilbarchan’s Euan Gillham was 12th, Giffnock’s Neil Gourley was 14th and Michael Ferguson of Aberdeen was 16th; to make it an impressive four Scots in the top 16 at that age group.

Down the age groups there were race wins by Emma Frew of Ayr Seaforth and Erin Wallace of Giffnock North with a second place for Isla Ward of Giffnock North and thirds for Hamish Armitt and Heather Barnes of Giffnock North.

There were fourth-place finishes for Connor Maclean of Stornoway and Kilbarchan AAC’s Laura Stark as more than 100 Scots made the journey to Merseyside to experience deeper competition than they are used to at home.

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