Today’s Great Edinburgh International Cross-Country races may be missing their expected major draw, Mo Farah but the races still promise to be an intriguing gauge of early season form for the international athletes who are due to compete. The double Olympic and World 5km & 10km champion had originally planned to run his first cross-country race for four years at the annual event, but that had to be shelved due to illness over the Christmas holiday period (where he lost a few days training). With rumours that cross-country running would be a good fit for the Winter Olympics in the future according to non-other than Lord Coe, the specialist discipline is attracting a degree of attention at present and Edinburgh is a fitting showcase for what the sport can offer.

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

Europe looks to be sending a strong senior men’s team to the event, with top Turkish athletes (and ex-Kenyans) Polat Kemboi Arikan and Ali Kaya to spearhead their challenge, alongside other formidable cross-country exponents 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 feature strongly in the team race.

There is also an international 4km event that features an outstanding global field, expected to include Asbel Kiprop (twice world 1500m champion), Japhet Korir (world cross-country champion) and Bernard Lagat (double 2007 world champion), besides the understated Garrett Heath from America who surprisingly snatched victory twelve months ago. Other potential winners are likely to include the Commonwealth 1500m champion James Magut and Silas Kiplagat who was the previous Commonwealth champion over the same distance. The intermediate distance offers an intriguing battle between the shorter distance track stars and their longer distance rivals, with the undulating surface to contend with at the same time. Expect the steeplechaser Jairus Birech, perennial Edinburgh racer Augustine Choge and Edwin Soi to also have 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 the imposing 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 Durham as the venue for the traditional January event, the main early afternoon televised races on the BBC will feature teams from Great Britain, United States and Europe as they battle for overall points victory. With races scheduled for junior athletes as well as seniors, the cream of cross-country racing from across much of the globe will be on display.

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