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THE INTER-COUNTIES and National might be where the titles are handed out but this event is now arguably the biggest one on the UK cross-country calendar.

Especially with the World Cross becoming biennial, more athletes are focusing on the European event these days, meaning these trials attract many of the UK’s top athletes.

Andy Butchart cuts loose in the senior men’s race at a chilly Sefton Park

While this year’s championships enjoyed the best senior men’s line-up for several years and good quality across the board, it also had quantity.

Entries were at record levels for every race, boosted as always by the incorporation of local league races.

The European Cross Country Championships is always a medal-fest for British athletes, but it’s the senior men’s category that has been one of the least successful in recent years.

However, with four Rio Olympians taking all the guaranteed places via Saturday’s race, all the talk at a chilly Sefton Park was regarding whether winner Andy Butchart could lead them to team gold in Chia, Italy.

The thick fog that refused to budge all morning finally lifted for the last race on the programme at just gone 2pm, allowing spectators to see the majestic sight of Butchart running away from a top field and then lapping league runners as if they were standing still.

Conditions will be very different for the team in the Sardinian coastal town – temperatures last Saturday were, at 17°C, around 10 times higher than they were in Liverpool – but GB will be hoping some of the performances can be replicated.

Aldershot, Farnham & District took the wins in both the men’s and women’s trial races to represent Britain at the European Champion Clubs Cup, to be held in Portugal on February 5. Their respective teams outscored Central AC and Swansea Harriers, the representatives from Scotland and Wales respectively.

Earlier, a minute’s silence was held in tribute to AFD’s Lucy Pygott and Stacey Burrows, the young athletes who were killed when hit by a car when out running last month.

The under-15 girls begin their race in the thick fog that hampered spectators’ view


IN POWERING away from the strongest men’s field at these European Cross trials for several years, Butchart showed the sort of form which took him to sixth over 5000m at the Olympics this year.

He covered the fast 9.8km course, which was firmer than usual, in 28:37, crossing the line eight seconds ahead of fellow Scot Callum Hawkins.

Eventual winner Andrew Butchart (1009) keeps an eye on leader Callum Hawkins

Behind Hawkins, who was ninth in the marathon at the Olympics, two of Britain’s representatives in the 10,000m in Rio, Andrew Vernon and Ross Millington, were next across the line, securing the automatic places in the team for Chia.

In the final race of the day, the two Scots began moving away on the first lap en route to forming such a big lead that, were it not for the fact that the heavy morning fog had just finally lifted, they would have been out of sight of the chasing Ross Millington, Ben Connor, Dewi Griffiths, Jonathan Taylor, Vernon and Adam Hickey.

Vernon, who had won the opening leg of the Cross Challenge in Milton Keynes, was surprisingly down in sixth for most of the race but finished strongly on the third and final lap and closed the gap to Hawkins to just 16 seconds by the end.

It was two years ago in this race that Butchart elevated himself to become among the country’s top cross-country runners. Then he finished second in losing a close race with Hawkins. Since then and particularly in the past 12 months, he has improved still further. His 13:08.61 was a Scottish record which took him to sixth in the Olympic final.

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About AW – Athletics Weekly Magazine

THE BIG INTERVIEW 14 DAVID RUDISHA Why the Olympic 800m champion thought he was finished SPOTLIGHT 18 BRIANNA ROLLINS How the sprint-hurdler used a laidback approach to take Rio gold ACTION 36 LIVERPOOL CROSS Andy Butchart prevails over top field at Euro Cross trials, while Gemma Steel is leading woman PERFORMANCE 26 Sports science news 28 Athlete Insight – Sara Treacy 30 Dynamic warm-ups 32 Products – running headgear A BRIT ABROAD 20 Tim Hutchings laments the demise of the world cross country champs NEWS 6 Usain Bolt film premieres 8 GB relay women set for upgrade 10 Alex Yee keeps sport options open RESULTS & FIXTURES 46 Results round-up 57 What’s On fixtures guide REGULARS 24 Letters 25 Book reviews 34 Young Athlete – John Millar 61 Quiz – test your knowledge 62 Dip Finish