“IT WASN’T much fun,” declared Chris O’Hare.
The European 1,500 metres medallist spoke for many, if not all. It takes a certain masochistic streak to venture outdoors, wearing clothing more appropriate for the beach, when the wind chill has dropped into the negatives and the snow and mud combine to construct a torture chamber. Even those who fell short of their habitual standards in the Morrisons Great Edinburgh cross-country on Saturday deserved glowing commendations for proceeding as planned. As such, foil blankets and hot tea seemed a scant reward.
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For fun runners and elite athletes alike, Holyrood Park was a venue for the brave and not the brittle. O’Hare, back at his former training ground, will return to his Boston base today and embrace the comfort of the indoor circuit. If this was a means to pay forward when challenges of greater import arise, then he will hope for a healthy return on the investment.
“It’s always good because you’re doing the work that would allow me to run a good 4k, even on cross-country,” said the 24-year-old after finishing tenth in the elite invitational four-kilometre race, adrift of victor Garrett Heath. “But not on conditions like that. If it had been hard, I’d have been a lot more comfortable out there. That’s the way it goes. It’s not something I needed for anything. It’s just good to get out there and have a little bit of fun.” A perverse pleasure, indeed.
Heath accelerated clear of an A-List field, building an eventual margin of eight seconds over reigning world cross champion Japheth Korir. The Minnesotan’s CV, matched against his rivals, should not have suggested he might repeat his triumph of 2014. His audacious acceleration on the concluding lap relegated the pack of seasoned Kenyans to mere stick in the muds. “I like the underdog position,” he smiled. “Hopefully, I can keep being the underdog, no matter how many times I have to win to become a favourite.”
It was a day when the United States squad kept their cool. In the adjoining three-team international contest, their cushion at the head of the standings illustrated their dominance in depth, snaring overall victory on 121 points with Team Europe on 189 and Great Britain & Northern Ireland languishing behind with 223.
Emilia Gorecka adroitly delivered some consolation via a brilliant triumph in the women’s 6k with the 20-year-old from Surrey providing what might be a glimpse of her future potential. Twice a European junior cross champion, she struggled badly on her senior bow in Bulgaria last month but had no peers here, skipping merrily away from Ireland’s accomplished Fionnuala Britton to seal what she claimed to be the best win of her nascent career.
Now to achieve something similar on firmer terrain, she pledged. “I had a few good races on the track this past year, time-wise, but I never felt I was hitting that big peak where I was hitting championships as well. I’m still quite young. So the aim is to keep progressing. There’s so much more. My 1,500 metres time has to change. In training it’s there. I just haven’t raced a quick 1,500. And then hopefully that helps for the 5,000.”
Andy Butchart will aim for similar advancement this summer, with the Perthshire prospect maintaining his winter’s form with 16th place in the men’s 8k, 50 seconds behind the USA’s Chris Derrick, who successfully defended his title. Yet there remains, perhaps, an opportunity to go to the world cross in March. Much, he knows, will depend on whether UK Athletics opts to transport a full squad to China or merely cherry pick those with medal potential. “I hope they take a small team at least,” the Scotsman said. “They have got the money, definitely. They have to give us a chance sometime so why not now?”
Elsewhere, Makena Morley of the USA domineered the junior women’s race while Yemaneberhan Crippa matched his European junior men’s victory. Behind the Italian, there were promising showings from 17-year-old Euan Gillham from Paisley, a late addition to the GB&NI line-up but the second British finisher in tenth place, along with Scottish under-17 champion Connor MacLean in 13th.
Inverclyde AC’s Jonny Glen was his own harshest critic after coming 18th and last. “I was poor,” he said. “I’ve been struggling since the Christmas period but there’s no excuses. It’s a tough course.”
Still, he too will hope for a world cross call. “But off that performance, who knows if I’ll still get a shot?” he added. “Hopefully I can get back training hard and it will come off.”
Morag McLarty led East of Scotland to a team triumph in the women’s Inter-District Championships while Daniel Cliffe’s victory paced North of England to head the men’s standings.
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