Weekend Preview: All roads lead to Greenmount and IAAF Antrim International XC 2018!

Weekend Preview:  IAAF Antrim International XC 2018!

There is no better way to kick off the New Year than with a major event… and they don’t come much bigger and high profile than the IAAF Antrim International XC, which takes place this weekend.  The IAAF permitted event, hosted by Athletics Northern Ireland, also incorporates the British Cross Challenge and the Celtic International XC, as well being part of the ongoing Athletics NI XC League 2017/18.

Given its stature as one of the biggest races in the world, the IAAF Antrim International XC will be the focus of our preview.  However, we’ll also provide a quick summary on what we expect to happen at the fifth race of the ongoing Born 2 Run ‘Run Forest Run’ Series, which will take place in Tollymore Forest, County Down.

IAAF Antrim International XC (inc British Cross Challenge, Celtic International XC & Athletics NI XC League 2017/18):

A host of World Class talent, including last year’s Diamond League Trophy winner Timothy Cheruiyot (Kenya) and double European XC gold medallist Fionnuala McCormack (Ireland), will be in action at this weekend’s Antrim International Cross Country at CAFRE Greenmount, Antrim (Saturday 6th January 2018).

This is the 41st Edition of the competition which has been held at various venues across Northern Ireland since it began at Mallusk in 1977. The event is in its 9th year at Greenmount.

The meeting is one of the highlights of the World Cross Country calendar, forming part of the IAAF’s World Cross Country series.  Supported by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, the popular programme of races has 1 of only 10 IAAF permits, so can rightly claim to be one of the top cross-country races in the world each year.

Previous participants in the long history of this event have included former Steve Ovett, Steve Cram, Brendan Foster, Paula Radcliffe, John Treacy and Paul Tergat. Last year (2017), World and Olympic 3000m Steeplechase Champion, Conselus Kipruto won the men’s race, while fellow Kenyan and former African Junior Champion Caroline Kipkirui claimed the ladies title.

In this year’s men’s international 8,000m, which will close proceedings at 2.20pm, the aforementioned 1500m specialist, Timothy Cheruiyot – Diamond League Trophy winner, Kenyan National Champion and IAAF World Championships silver medallist (2017) – will face tough opposition.  This includes Moroccan Soufiane Elbakkali, who finished in fourth place in the 3,000m Steeplechase at the Rio 2016 Olympics.  Soufiane went on to secure a silver medal in the same event at the IAAF World Championships in London last year (2017).

Another Olympian, Belgium’s Jeroen D’Hoet will also start alongside the man who beat him to bronze at the 2013 European XC Championships, Andy Vernon (England).  Andy is no stranger to the fast Greenmount course – this will be his fifth appearance at the event – he finished as runner up in 2010 and claimed third place last year.

Former European Under 23 1500m Champion and 3:51.84 miler Pieter Jan Hannes (Belgium) will play a part at the front, especially if underfoot conditions are firm.  At the other end of the scale, Scotland’s Andrew Douglas, who claimed top ten places at the World and European Mountain Running Championships in 2017, will enjoy the rougher conditions.  If they travel, Dewi Griffiths (Swansea) and Ben Connor (Derby AC), will be worth watching having produced excellent performances of late.  Ireland’s Hugh Armstrong, who recently made headlines with several impressive outings over the country, will also be hoping to make his mark.

Northern Ireland will be well represented, with Scott Rankin (Foyle Valley AC), Neil Johnston (Springwell Running Club), Eoghan Totten (Newcastle AC) and Mark McKinstry (North Belfast Harriers) swapping their club vests for the green and white of their country.

In the ladies 5,400m event, which is scheduled for 1.55pm, Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack and England’s Gemma Steel will go head to head.  The pair finished in first and second place respectively at this event back in 2012 – little separated them at the recent European XC Championships in Slovakia, with Gemma taking ninth and Fionnuala twelfth.

Individually, they need no introduction – Fionnuala was the first woman ever to retain the European XC Championships title when she won in 2011 and 2012, and has won the Antrim International XC twice.  Last year, the Kilcoole AC athlete finished just outside the podium places, so will be keen to show her form and secure that third title.Versatile athlete Gemma, a 1:08:13 half marathoner, has finished as runner up in Antrim on two occasions (2012 and 2014), and will therefore also be keen to add the trophy to her collection.

The home countries pair will have to see off some noteworthy competition, including Ethiopian Birtukan Adamu, who joined them on the podium in 2012 – Birtukan also finished in third place last year (2017).  Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi (Kenya), a fifth place finisher over 5,000m at the IAAF World Championships in London last year; interestingly, the Kenyan athlete has recorded a speedy 14:32 for the 5,000m distance.

Bontu Edao Rebitu, who has represented Bahrain at the World XC Championships, former World Junior XC medallist Alemitu Hawi (Ethiopia), and Fotyen Tesfay (Ethiopia), a sixth place finisher at last years World XC Championships, will add further depth to the strong ladies field.

Looking at the local contingent, Mourne Runners athlete Laura Graham will make her international debut, representing Northern Ireland.  The AAI National Marathon Champion will be joined on the Northern Ireland team by the talented trio of Fionnuala Ross (Armagh AC), who represented Ireland at the Euro XC last month, and North Down AC duo Rachel Gibson and Katie Moore.

As well as being part of the World Cross Country circuit, the Antrim International XC is part of the UK Athletics Cross Challenge Series and this year will also incorporate the Celtic Cross Country International with teams from Scotland, Wales, Ireland and NI & Ulster all competing.

There will also be a full programme of supporting races from primary schools age upwards for both boys and girls.

At the launch of the event, Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Councillor Paul Hamill commented, “I am delighted that the Antrim International Cross Country is returning to our Borough for another year. This is a fantastic event and showcases the high standard of competitors within the Cross Country sport.”

Athletics NI General Secretary, John Allen, said: ‘’We at Athletics NI are proud and excited to be hosting the IAAF Antrim International again in 2018. The event has a long and prestigious history, and we fully expect to see a world class field again this year’’.

Born 2 Run ‘Run Forest Run’ Tollymore 10k & 5k:

Also on Saturday 6th January 2018, over eight hundred runners are expected to descend on Tollymore Forest Park, in the heart of the Mourne Mountains, for the Born 2 Run Tollymore 10k and 5k races.  This is the fifth event of the event management company’s ongoing ‘Run Forest Run’ Series.

At the front of the field, QUB AC’s Vincent McKenna, winner of the Loughgall 10k, should play a major part in proceedings.  PJ O’Neill (Unattached) and Noel Kerr (Unattached), two men who have impressed in the Series, may also toe the line.  Larne AC’s Phelim McAllister and David Noble should secure top ten places.

In the ladies race, Northern Ireland and Ireland international Gladys Ganiel O’Neill (North Belfast Harriers) will prove hard to beat – Gladys should top the ladies podium and will contest the win overall.  County Antrim Harriers’ Jana Ross, who has finished on the podium in three of the four completed races in the Series, will also be there or there about; Jana had an excellent start to 2018 with a prize-winning performance at Race Over The Glens on New Years Day.  Ever consistent athletes Joanne Graham (Mourne Runners) and Aisling Mone (Unattached) may pick up a prize, while the same can be said for North Down AC’s Catherine Roberts, should she compete.


As always, Northern Ireland’s twenty five parkrun events will take place this weekend, for more information on these, or to locate your nearest event, please visit our dedicated ‘parkrun’ section within our fixtures page.