GB run off with top team prize

A VICTORY for Britton and a win for Britain heralded the start of Olympic year yesterday at the Bupa Great Edinburgh cross country, the first in a sequence of races that will lead many towards the pursuit of Utopia in London this August.

The muddy and chilled conditions in Holyrood Park are hugely distinct, of course, from the track in Stratford on which hopes and dreams will either be fulfilled or falter. Better, however, to start 2012 well and maintain that feelgood factor than be forced to rally from the depths.

Over a series of events in the capital, Great Britain – with six Scots in its ranks – took victory in the team event ahead of rival squads from the USA and Europe, the strength in depth telling despite a sole home victory for the promising junior Emilia Gorecka.

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In the senior international races, Europe’s representatives prevailed with Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton maintaining the dominance she established when claiming victory at last month’s European Championships in Slovenia. Dominant from the moment she opted to accelerate away from Britain’s Gemma Steel, Wicklow’s finest floated over the rugged terrain as the confidence of a first major title drove her onwards.

“I tried to stick with her as long as I could,” said Steel, who took European bronze in Slovenia.

Her challenge faded and Britton coasted through the finishing line of the six-kilometres in 21 minutes and 32 seconds with Steel languishing behind.

“I was kind of hoping both of us could work together but I got away,” Britton affirmed. “I’ve felt more pressure than anything the past few days. I hadn’t thought about it too much after the Europeans because of Christmas but when I got here, I felt like I’m the person everyone would try and beat. So today there was more pressure. But if the pressure comes because you’re winning, that’s OK, because everyone likes winning.”

Freya Murray, beginning the build-up to her marathon debut in London in April, was the best-placed Scot in sixth while Steph Twell faded to ninth in the latter stages in a performance even her coach Mick Woods described as “awful”.

Spain’s Ayad Lamdassem, representing Europe, took the senior men’s 8km race, delivering a devastating burst with 200 metres remaining to blindside Belgian rival Atelaw Bekele and surge to victory in 25:44.

“Last year, I was third on this course so I’m happy that this year I’m number one,” he said.

“It feels good, especially that there were a lot of elite athletes out there, especially Bekele who is the European champion. He’s a very strong athlete. He went off quickly today but I was determined to stay with him.”

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Bobby Mack of the USA snatched second place while Kilbarchan’s Derek Hawkins was 18th overall.

It was not a day for the extended Clan Bekele.

Kenesisa, three-time Olympic champion and so long the omnipotent cross-country force, was relegated to the ranks of the mortals in the Invitational 3K race as several homegrown hopefuls, including Kilbarchan’s Callum Hawkins, took the unexpected scalp of the Ethiopian legend.

Instead Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop, the reigning Olympic 1,500 metres champion, went virtually unchallenged, winning in 9:20, five seconds in front of Britain’s Jonny Hay who usurped 2010 victor Eliud Kipchoge with a late flurry.

“I was surprised to have won so easily,” said Kiprop, who last month became the first-ever athlete ever to receive his Olympic medal on the African continent after the disqualification of original champion Rashid Ramzi for doping.

“As I ran, I was thinking of Bekele. I was expecting him to be there and I was surprised not to see him.”

Gorecka, Twell’s training partner, shone in the junior women’s 4K to provide another glimpse of her enticing potential by destroying her challengers.

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“Because there’s no world cross this year, this was the focus on my season,” she said. “I didn’t want to just turn up.”

Dundee’s Laura Muir was tenth while the junior men’s event was won by Kirubel Erassa of the USA ahead of Britain’s Kieron Clements.

Elsewhere, Beth Potter from Bearsden, who will head to Kenya this week in the company of Twell, Murray and Derek Hawkins for a month of altitude training, was a comfortable winner of the Scottish Inter-Districts title.