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Athletics Northern Ireland today (21 Oct) announced the 32nd Antrim IAAF International Cross Country Races, the third meeting in this winter’s UK Cross Challenge series, which this year is moving to the picturesque venue of CAFRE, Greenmount Campus in Antrim and takes place on 3rd January 2009.

The event is one of the largest and most popular events in the Northern Ireland athletics sporting calendar with more than 1,000 competitors taking part in 12 races throughout the day for age groups Senior, Veteran, Under 20, Under 17, Under 15 and Under 13.

The event is one of eleven IAAF permitted cross country races in the world and is part of the UK Cross Challenge Series. The well-established series is the focus of the domestic endurance running scene over the winter months and this year it has been given a huge boost by the support of McCain for the first time ever. The Challenge has a prize fund of £30,000 for the 2008/09 season, more than double the amount from last winter’s series.

The five race series will begin at Gateshead on Saturday 15 November. Further races will follow at Liverpool on 29 November, Antrim on 3 January, London (exact venue to be confirmed) on 14 February and Nottingham on 7 March.

The Antrim event is organised by Athletics Northern Ireland and sponsored by Mizuno in association with Antrim Borough Council.
Nick Vermont, Regional CEO of McCain Foods (GB) Ltd, Title Sponsor of the event says,
“We are looking forward to an exciting McCain UK Cross Challenge series. We hope that our support for the series of UK challenges will inspire and encourage young people to take up athletics across the country”.

Over the decades, some of the best international cross-country competitors from as far afield as the USA, Uganda and Kenya have made the trip to challenge each other at this acclaimed NI fixture and high profile athletes have competed here such as Paula Radcliffe, Paul Tergat, Steve Cram, Steve Ovett, John Tracey, Khalid Skah, Sergey Lebid, Liz McColgan and Brendan Foster to name a few.

Helping launch the 32nd Antrim International Cross Country in the Greenmount Campus today was St. Malachy’s athlete Michael McKillop along with the NI Cross Country champions Brian Campbell (Willowfield Harriers) and Kerry Harty (Newcastle AC).

18 year old Michael McKillop’s crowning glory is of course his 800 metres gold medal in the Paralympic Games in Beijing a month ago where he destroyed the opposition to record a new world record of 1 minute 59.39 seconds- over 3 seconds ahead of silver medallist Brad Scott of Australia.

Michael went to Beijing as one of the favourites in the T37 800m event for athletes diagnosed with cerebral palsy. After a first lap of 58.74 seconds he followed his dad’s advice to break the opposition with 200m left thereby ensuring an emphatic 20m victory. Afterwards both father and son expressed relief and satisfaction at achieving their ultimate goal after years of arduous preparation. This was Ireland’s first Paralympics Track & Field gold medal since Atlanta in 1996 and underpinned a highly successful team performance which included a double gold medal sprint success for Derry’s Jason Smyth. Michael will be competing in the U20 Men’s Race in January.

Julian Moorhouse of Mizuno Corporation (UK) commented:
“The International Cross Challenge is one of the leading cross country events in the UK and Mizuno are delighted to continue our association with the event. We are well positioned as a leading global sports brand to help develop all forms of running and cross country is often the first introduction to running for youngsters”.

Deputy Mayor of Antrim, Councillor Adrian Cochrane-Watson comments,
“We are delighted that Athletics Northern Ireland has chosen a location in the Borough of Antrim as the new venue for the Antrim IAAF International Cross Country event. CAFRE, Greenmount Campus is an excellent venue for this world class competition, particularly for those travelling from overseas.”

Councillor Cochrane-Watson continues, “There is no doubt that an event this size will contribute significantly to the Borough and provide an excellent opportunity to showcase the top class facilities, visitor attractions and beautiful scenery that Antrim has to offer. Antrim Borough Council is proud to support this event and wish Athletics Northern Ireland, CAFRE and the runners every success for January 2009.”