By Owen Morgan
Cardiff will host its second major athletics event in less than a week as some of Europe’s top cross country runners descend on the city this Saturday.
The Cardiff Cross Challenge has attracted an international entry in both the men’s and women’s events, as well as runners from the four corners of the UK.
Among the stand-out names competing are former European Cross Country Champion Sophia Duarte, of France, Belgian international Imana Truyer and Irish Olympian Sara Treacy.
There will also be a strong challenge from across the border in the shape of England and UK Inter-Counties Champion Phoebe Law, European Under-20 silver medallist Jessica Judd and 2015 European silver medallist Kate Avery.
Amongst the men, reigning English Cross Country Champion Adam Hickey returns to Cardiff after winning the senior men’s race back in 2015. He will be joined on the start line by the 2017 men’s Cardiff Cross Challenge runner-up Mahamed Mahamed.
The Welsh challenge on the Llandaff Fields course will feature the Cardiff AC quartet of Clara Evans, Jake Heyward, James Hunt and Stephen Morris.
Last Sunday in Cardiff, Evans was the first Welsh woman to finish at the Commonwealth Half Marathon Championships, clocking a new PB and taking the Welsh half marathon title.
Hunt is the reigning Welsh Cross Country Champion after breaking Dewi Griffiths’ winning run at Swansea’s Singleton Park at the start of this year, while Morris claimed two fourth place finishes at the World Para Athletics European Championships in the summer.
Rising middle distance star Heyward will be returning to cross country action following a hugely successful track season which saw him set a series of PBs, make two Diamond League appearances and finish fourth at the World Under-20 Championships.
The reigning U20 men’s Cross Challenge series champion, will be joined in the under-20 race by another exciting young Welsh prospect, Wrexham’s Matt Willis.
Another Welsh athlete aiming for success on home soil is Beth Kidger, who was the 2017 Welsh Cross Country Champion.
The Brighton Phoenix athlete, who is coming into the event off her most successful track season, said: “I’m extremely excited to be starting my season in Cardiff and test myself against what I know will be a strong field.
“Being my first cross country race of the year it won’t be easy, but these are the type of races that will make me stronger.”
Meanwhile, Cari Hughes is hoping for another podium place in the women’s under-20 race after finishing second last year.
The Swansea Harrier, who broke the Welsh junior 1,500m record in the summer as she clocked a new lifetime best of 4:17.51, said: “Having the first Cross Challenge series race of the season at Cardiff is always good.
“There will be a lot of Welsh support out on the course, which always helps and I’m really looking forward to it. As it’s the first race of the season, it’s always hard to gauge where you’re at but training’s been going well these last few months, so it should be good.
“I suffered with a slight cold last week, but I’ve had a full week to get back training and hopefully I’ll be able to get right up there and challenge for a podium place finish once more Saturday.
The Loughborough University Student, who won the Junior Female Endurance Athlete of the Year at the recent Welsh Athletics Awards Dinner, added: “It looks like a high calibre field, so I’m excited to race hard and see what happens on the day.”
There is an added incentive for the Welsh runners to do well at the Cardiff Cross as it will also act as a Welsh Athletics selection trial for the prestigious Cross de Atapuerca event in Burgos, Spain, on November 11.
Automatic selection will be awarded to the top Welsh finisher in both the senior men’s and women’s races and the top two Welsh Under-20 finishers in the men’s and women’s Under-20 races.
The British contingent will also have one eye on the European Cross Country trials in Liverpool next month.
The Cardiff Cross Challenge is the opening fixture of the 2018-19 British Athletics Cross Challenge Series, which also sees races held in Milton Keynes, Liverpool, Belfast and Loughborough . The event will also host the first fixture of this season’s John Collins Gwent Cross Country League.
Saturday’s timetable of events is:
11:30: under-11 girls
11:40: under-11 boys
11:50: under-13 girls
12:05: under-13 boys
12:20: under-17 men
12:45: under-17/20 women
13:10: under -15 girls
13:25: under-15 boys
13:40: senior/masters women
14:25: under-20 men
14:55: senior/masters men.
For more information on the event visit the Cardiff Cross Challenge website.