from Athletic Northern Ireland Stephanie Twell, Britain’s top cross country runner will be racing in the Antrim International Cross Country on Saturday 3rd January in what will be the 32nd year of this event which is sponsored by Mizuno in conjunction with Antrim Borough Council. The event is organised and promoted by Athletics Northern Ireland. 8 days ago in Brussels, 19 year old Twell took the European Cross Country scene by storm when recording her third successive junior victory. This was her last run as a junior athlete and it inspired her British team mates to capture an unprecedented clean sweep of the first six places. Twell’s 11 second victory was even more impressive when one considers that she recently defeated Hatti Dean and Louise Damien who were the top two British finishers in the Senior Women’s race.

Twell who competes for Aldershot is already being hailed in some circles as a natural successor to the great Paula Radcliffe. She has already proved her versatility when capturing the World Junior 1500m in Poland last July- the first British World Champion in the event since Steve Cram. She then followed this up with a world class junior 1500m time of under 4 minutes 6 seconds in Paris. This performance was marginally faster than her Beijing Olympic Games time a month later which she used as part of a learning objective to familiarise herself with world class senior opposition.

Stephanie will start firm favourite to take the Antrim cross country title after emphatic victories last month in the McCain UK Cross Challenge meetings at both Gateshead and Newcastle. On both these occasions she defeated Slough’s Hayley Yelling who won at Stormont last year. In this race the up and coming Twell finished sixth.

Also competing at Greenmount will be Jean Ndayisenga of Burundi who finished sixth at Stormont two years ago and also won the Titanic Quarter 10K Road Race three months later from Kenya’s Simon Tonui. He recently won the Birmingham Cross Country.

Julian Moorhouse of Mizuno Corporation (UK) commented: “Mizuno are delighted to continue their sponsorship of this important event in the cross country calendar and we look forward to some competitive racing on the new, fast course. The event is one of a number of running events which we sponsor in Northern Ireland and this cross country event compliments our road running events well.”

Previous winners of the Belfast International meeting which started way back in 1977 have included world and Olympic champions. Notable names have included Paula Radcliffe, Paul Tergat, Steve Cram, Steve Ovett, John Tracey, Khalid Skah, Sergey Lebid, Liz McColgan, Brendan Foster plus a host of other world class Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes.

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.

Further international names will be release shortly.

[Pictured: Steph Twell winning at Brussels]