McCormack poses threat to Kenyan dominance
Kenyan athletes will be challenged by Ireland's Fionnuala McCormack in today's 42nd International Cross Country at Dundonald which is part of the IAAF World Series.
This prestigious event, one of the longest running in the world, has moved to Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council's Billy Neill Centre of Excellence at Comber Road, Dundonald after 10 years at Greenmount in Antrim.
The Council has carried out extensive ground preparations with the excellent drainage and minimal rain in the past month making for a very fast course for the hundreds of athletes.
The Women's 8k event will feature Kenya's Pauline Kamulu, who was the fastest 10,000m runner in the world last year. Her time of 30 minutes, 41.85 seconds in Japan last July was 24 seconds faster than any other athlete in 2018.
Last March she also showed her world class road credentials by taking bronze in the World Half Marathon in Valencia in a personal best of 66 mins, 56 secs.
Kamulu's opposition will include surprise entry McCormack (34) who will be competing in her first race in a year since taking time out after becoming a mum. Her last event was a year ago at the Greenmount International.
McCormack is an Irish cross country icon having competed in the European Cross Country on an amazing 15 occasions which included individual golds in 2011 and 2012. The former steeplechaser has also competed in two Olympics and two World Championships.
However, after a year out, Fionnuala's current fitness is uncertain and she will face ferocious opposition in a world class field at Dundonald.
This includes not only Kamulu but Great Britain stars Emilia Gorecka, Gemma Steel, Kate Avery and Emily Hosker Thornhill.
Hosker Thornhill and Avery were eighth and ninth respectively in last weekend's International Cross Country in Stirling.
Avery has nine Euro Cross medals to her credit, which include the frustration of taking individual silver in 2014 and 2015.
The 27-year-old Shildon AC athlete was a member of the GB Euro silver medal winning team in Tilburg, Holland last month. She was fourth at Greenmount in 2016.
Avery just lost out to Steel for European gold in the 2015 race in the snow and ice of Samokov.
Steel's best position in Northern Ireland was second to McCormack at Greenmount in 2012.
Gorecka, who was a double European Junior Cross champion, will be making her first outing to the province and will be competing for the first time in several months.
Other competitors include Hawi Feysa of Ethiopia, who was a silver medallist in the 2017 World Junior Cross Country, team-mate Meskerem Mamo, who was the World leading Junior last year over 3,000m and 5,000m, plus GB's Amy Griffith and Louise Small who finished eighth at Greenmount on three occasions.
The NI team includes Rio Olympics marathon runner Breege Connolly and Armagh's Fionnuala Ross.
The line-up for the Men's 10k event will be equally competitive with Kenyan track star Paul Tanui leading the challengers.
Tanui (27) would consider Mo Farah his nemesis after many desperately close contests over the years.
In the famous Rio Olympics 10,000m, where Farah fell at the halfway point, Tanui made frantic efforts to sprint away from him in the final straight only to lose out for gold by less than half a second.
The England team includes National Cross Champion Adam Hickey.
The NI team will have Commonwealth Games steeplechaser Adam Kirk-Smith and UK Masters champion Mark McKinstry.
Past participants have included Farah, Paula Radcliffe, Steve Ovett and Brendan Foster.
Today's first race is at 11am with International races from 2.15pm.