Today’s Great Edinburgh International Cross-Country racesmay be missing their expected major draw, Mo Farah but the races still promiseto be an intriguing gauge of early season form for the international athleteswho are due to compete. The double Olympic and World 5km & 10km champion hadoriginally planned to run his first cross-country race for four years at the annualevent, but that had to be shelved due toillness over the Christmas holiday period (where he lost a few days training). Withrumours that cross-country running would be a good fit for the Winter Olympicsin the future according to non-other than Lord Coe, the specialist disciplineis attracting a degree of attention at present and Edinburgh is a fittingshowcase for what the sport can offer.

Last year’s champion Gemma Steel returns in the senior women’srace, fresh from her fine victory in the European cross-country championshipsin Bulgaria. She is likely to take on the woman she beat into second place inthe 2014 Edinburgh event, as Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton is due to compete forthe European team. Rhona Auckland, who won the under-23 event at the Euros willstep up to the seniors to join Steel in a strong-looking GB women’s team, thatfeatures another athlete who has had previous success at Holyrood in EmeliaGorecka, as well as track star Jess Judd. Besides Britton, Europe also seem to havestrong representation from Meraf Bahta (3rd behind Steel at theEuros), Almensch Belete and France’s 2013 Euro cross-country champion, SophieDuarte.

Europe looks to be sending a strong senior men’s team tothe event, with top Turkish athletes (and ex-Kenyans) Polat Kemboi Arikan andAli Kaya to spearhead their challenge, alongside other formidable cross-countryexponents such as Spain’s Alemayehu Bezabeh and Florian Carvalho from France.With the top three athletes at the Euros in their team, expect them to featurestrongly in the team race.

There is also an international 4km event that features anoutstanding global field, expected to include Asbel Kiprop (twice world 1500mchampion), Japhet Korir (world cross-country champion) and Bernard Lagat(double 2007 world champion), besides the understated Garrett Heath fromAmerica who surprisingly snatched victory twelve months ago. Other potentialwinners are likely to include the Commonwealth 1500m champion James Magut andSilas Kiplagat who was the previous Commonwealth champion over the samedistance. The intermediate distance offers an intriguing battle between theshorter distance track stars and their longer distance rivals, with theundulating surface to contend with at the same time. Expect the steeplechaserJairus Birech, perennial Edinburgh racer Augustine Choge and Edwin Soi to alsohave their say in the outcome of the race.

With most of the action set in the scenic Holyrood Park,adjacent to the Queen’s home when staying in Edinburgh and in the shadow of theimposing Arthur’s Seat, it is a picturesque setting for cross-country racing.The day’s action also includes the Great Winter Runs of 2.5km for juniors &5km for seniors on the road that are held in the morning.

First held in Edinburgh in 2005 when it replaced Durhamas the venue for the traditional January event, the main early afternoon televisedraces on the BBC will feature teams from Great Britain, United States andEurope as they battle for overall points victory. With races scheduled for juniorathletes as well as seniors, the cream of cross-country racing from across muchof the globe will be on display.

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