from Athletics Northen Ireland Britain’s Stephanie Twell is firm favourite to take individual honours in this Saturday’s IAAF International Cross Country at a new parkland course at CAFRE, Greenmount Campus in Antrim. The event is in its amazing 32nd year and is supported by Antrim Borough Council and Mizuno. The 19 year old Aldershot athlete is currently on a high following her third successive European Junior victory in Brussels just two weeks ago. This win came as no surprise to athletics enthusiasts especially following earlier victories in the McCain Cross Challenge Series at Gateshead and Liverpool. What did raise eyebrows however was the inspirational effect which Twell had on her British team mates who then proceeded to finish in the next five places.

Twell will remember 2008 as the year when she carried all before her at international Junior level. She also made a successful transition to Senior competition-an achievement always frought with difficulty. Following a low key start to the year when she only managed sixth place in the Stormont International, she went from strength to strength in the summer track season. This included a world class PB of under 4 minutes 6 seconds over 1500m, the World Junior title in Poland and an impressive run in the Beijing Olympics.

Recently Stephanie has proved her versatility by defeating all Senior British opposition over the country. These achievements have led to slightly unfair comparisons with the great Paula Radcliffe in her early career.

Main opposition to Twell should be Midlands based Emily Pidgeon who was fourth finisher in Brussels and is a former European Junior 5000m champion. Also vying for the top position will be Emily Brown of the US who was 18th in Edinburgh’s World Championships in March and Russia’s Victoria Trushenko who finished 11th in Brussels. Top Irish challenges should be Deidre Byrne who was a surprise 3rd in last year’s race plus her namesake Linda was an 10th in Brussels.

In the Men’s 9K event, honours should go to Uganda’s Boniface Kiprop who makes a welcome return to the Province after finishing 5th at Stormont in 2003. Kiprop, who is still only 23, took the Commonwealth 10,000m title in Melbourne in 2006. Two years previously he started the sport with a new World Junior record of 27 minutes 4 seconds.

Kiprop will be challenged by the current Ethiopian 10,000m champion Imane Merga who was 7th in the World Junior Cross Country last year and recently won a high quality race in Spain. Other contenders include Kenya’s Denis Masai, Scottish Olympic steeplechaser Andrew Lemoncello and Burundi’s Jean Ndayisenga who recently won in Birmingham. Key local athletes to the fore will be NI champion Brian Campbell, Paddy Hamilton and Stephen Scullion. Ireland’s Michael Clohissey who was 4th in the Inter Counties should also feature.

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. It is one of eleven IAAF permitted cross country races in the world and is part of the UK Cross Challenge Series.

The racing programme starts at 11.00am with international races from 2.00pm.