Steph Twell hits road to London 2012

THE road to the London Olympics begins in earnest today for Scotland’s Steph Twell when she competes in the Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country event in the capital’s Holyrood Park.

The Commonwealth Games 1,500 metres bronze medallist runs in the six-kilometre team race this afternoon, but for London she has her sights set on the distance which gave her that third place in Delhi.

“I would like to go for the 1,500m for the Olympics,” said Twell, who missed almost all of last season after breaking an ankle during a cross-country race. “I had a good year at that in 2010 and I can still get back to that level.

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‘But I would like to keep my options open as well for the 5,000m. That’s where the cross-country season works and it lends itself to that distance.

“We will see nearer the time. I was involved in both 1,500m and 5,000m in Delhi. In terms of Scotland, I’d hope that I might be able to double up on those again come the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.”

Four other Scottish women will represent the Great Britain & Northern Ireland team over 6k today – Freya Murray, Amy Campbell, Laura Muir and debutant Rosie Smith. The British team faces tough competition from the United States and from a European select which features European champion Fionnuala Britton.

The Irishwoman, too, has her sights set on London 2012, and is the runner to beat today after claiming the continental crown last month. “It was great to win the European cross-country title,” Britton said.

“I had been a bronze medallist the year before and this time I didn’t want to have any regrets. I wanted the right colour of medal this time around.

“The longer I led the field in Slovenia the more I wanted to finish first and take the title itself. Now I am weighing up my options for London. I have the qualifying time for the steeplechase, but I am looking more at the 5,000m and 10,000m.”

The star of the men’s 3k this afternoon is likely to be double Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele. But the Ethiopian, who had a troubled 2011 because of injury, faces stiff competition from the likes of Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop, the Olympic and world 1,500m champion, and his compatriot Brimin Kipruto, the Olympic 3,000m steeplechase champion. A third world-class Kenyan, Olympic 5,000m silver medallist Eliud Kipchoge, is also in the field.

Six months out from the London Olympics, Bekele feels his injury problems are now firmly behind him, but he is as yet uncertain whether to attempt the double. “At the moment I have not made up my mind whether to defend my 5,000m and 10,000m gold medals at the London Olympics,” Bekele said. “It is of course something I would like to do.

“At the moment I am training hard and there is plenty of time for me to decide what to do. I was encouraged when I made my comeback last summer, particularly when I ran the fastest 10,000m time in the world for the year.

“That gave me great encouragement after my long time out through injury and showed I am fully recovered. When I couldn’t race I was of course a little bit down and frustrated, but now I am back to full fitness and eager to consolidate my position as the world’s best distance runner.”

Bekele, who has previously won a hat-trick of 9k races in the Edinburgh event, will face stiff competition from Britain’s Mo Farah if he does opt to defend both Olympic titles in London. Farah won the 5,000m world title in Daegu last year, and was runner-up over 10,000m.

Bekele is recognised as the most successful cross-country runner of all time, having won 20 gold medals at the world championships, comprising 12 individual victories plus eight team golds. But it was Kipchoge who took the plaudits in Edinburgh a year ago, taking the lead soon after the start of the 4.2k race and going on to dominate the event.

His fellow-Kenyans Kiprop and Kiprut were left trailing in his wake then, coming in second and third respectively. But the fact that they are racing over a shorter distance this time should enhance their chances of defeating their great colleague.

With no world cross-country championships on the calendar this year, the Great Edinburgh Cross Country is closer to a global title than any other event. Besides the men’s 3k race and the women’s 6k team event there will also be an 8k team event for men. In the two junior events – 6k for men and 4k for women – a Great Britain team will also compete against selects from the United States and Europe.