McCormack shows no signs of rust in impressive return
Double European cross country champion Fionnuala McCormack made an impressive return to international competition at the weekend's IAAF Cross Country at the Billy Neill Centre of Excellence at Dundonald .
McCormack finished sixth in a world class field in the Women's 8k event at the new venue, supported by Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council. Spectators and athletes alike expressed satisfaction at the well prepared, testing course which produced the classic mix of fast running and demanding hills.
This was 34-year-old Fionnuala's first race after a year out following the birth of daughter Isla. She knew she was never going to contain a quartet of classy Africans who fought their own fierce battle from the gun. Instead, she duelled with several GB internationals which included European medallists Kate Avery and Gemma Steel .
After a cautious start, the Kilcoole AC athlete fought her way through in the closing stages to finish as second European, only 10 seconds behind England's Emily Hosker-Thornhill. The surprise race winner was Ethiopia's Meskerem Mamo who was the fastest junior in the world last year over 3,000 and 5,000 metres.
In the usual fierce sprint finish, Mamo had three seconds to spare over Kenyan favourite Pauline Kamulu. Kamulu, who was the world's fastest 10,000 metres runner last year, had to settle for third with world junior silver medallist Hawi Feysa taking second in the same time as Mamo.
A delighted McCormack said: "It was nice to be back again against tough opposition on a good course. I was a bit apprehensive in the first half as I didn't know how I would perform. I knew it would be hard but I am pleased. I have no intentions of retiring - I just can't give up."
An equally satisfied Hosker-Thornhill commented: "The hills on this course really suited me. I have only recently been able to challenge the GB girls. I am in the form of my life and will be aiming for the World Cross in March."
Avery was seventh, followed by Scotland's Mhari MacLennan and England's Claire Duck. Breege Connolly was first local finisher in 20th place.
The Men's 10k event was also dominated by African athletes with the Kenyan pair Richard Yator and Rio Olympics silver medallist Paul Tanui battling it out with Birhanu Balew of Burundi and Ethiopia's Chala Beyo.
Northern Ireland's Mark McKinstry mixed it with the leaders early on and eventually finished a commendable 13th .
In a frantic finish, only 6 seconds separated the first three with Asian Games champion Balew securing the win ahead of Yator, who was second fastest in the world last year over 10,000 metres. Tanui's famous track speed deserted him as he was relegated to fourth behind Beyo .
Sam Stabler of Wreake and Soar Valley AC was the surprise first non-African finisher in an impressive fifth place. He was isolated behind the Africans for much of the race but at the finish was well clear of his UK rivals. Charlie Hulson of Wales, who was 17th in the Euro Cross, was 10 seconds back followed by England pair Alex Teuten and Jack Gray.
Stabler said: "I was hoping to be first GB finisher. I have been injured for most of last year but I managed to get a huge amount of training in before Christmas.
"I made an effort to stay with the Africans. This was a do or die approach but it paid off. I am now aiming for the Euro indoors in Glasgow in March."
Willowfield's Dylan McBride was an impressive winner of the U15 event.