European Cross Country Championships today


The 21st edition of the European Cross Country Championships gets under way in Samokov, Bulgaria this morning. Steph Twell (handicap -1.1) (pictured) has been named as captain of the Great Britain & Northern Ireland team, who are aiming to continue their impressive medal winning record at the event.

25 year old Twell has been given the honour of captaining her country on her ninth appearance at the European Cross Country Championships and will be targeting a strong display in the senior women’s race after the return to her best form on the road.

The Aldershot Farnham & District athlete said: “It’s special for me because I have been on the team for so many years and it’s been part of my development growing up. I’m really happy to take on the role and share my experiences with the younger athletes on the team who are coming through.

“I have so many fond memories of the European Cross Country Championships. They propelled me to winning my track vests. It gave me that exposure on the European level, and the success as a junior on this stage made me believe in myself over the longer distances on the track.”

A major contender in the senior women’s race includes last year’s silver medallist Gemma Steel (handicap -2.5), who is targeting the gold this time around and she will lead a strong senior women’s team in Samokov. She will be joined by NCAA Champion Kate Avery (handicap -0.6), Lily Partridge (handicap -0.3), Sonia Samuels (handicap -0.5) and Elle Vernon (handicap -0.8).

The senior men to face the 1010 metre course combine a mixture of experience and those who are making their debuts on the European stage. Andrew Butchart (handicap -5.4) was second at the trials in Liverpool two weeks ago and the Central AC athlete will be looking to make a mark on his maiden European Cross appearance. He is joined by Luke Caldwell (handicap -5.7) who finished fifth in the U23 race in Belgrade last year, Adam Hickey (handicap -5.1), Tom Lancashire (handicap -5.3), Ross Millington (handicap -5.5) and Tom Wade (handicap -2.8).

The U23 race will see Emelia Gorecka (handicap -1.4) making the step up in age groups after a superb second place behind Steel in the trials a fortnight ago. The two-time European Cross Junior champion will be one of the strong contenders for the title this time around. Rhona Auckland (handicap -0.8) has been in good form after a new personal best of 33.03 at the Leeds Abbey Dash 10k last month and will be joined by Maryse Haynes (handicap 0.4), Kate Holt (handicap 1.0), Rebecca Murray (handicap 1.1) and Alice Wright ) as they look to match the gold medal winning exploits of the U23 team twelve months ago.

The men’s U23 race will include the British Athletics Liverpool Cross Challenge winner which incorporated the trials for the event last month, Callum Hawkins (handicap -5.6), who will be looking to put himself in the mix for a medals this morning.

“It is going to be a challenging course – some parts are muddy, some pretty hard and the ground is pretty torn up, so it should be good,” said the Kilbarchan AC athlete after walking the course yesterday.

“Hopefully I’ll put myself up there and get a medal. It’s going to be quite tough; there could be quite a few surprises.  Liverpool was a real confidence booster, I thought I had a slim chance but it was great to win and I’m feeling good ahead of tomorrow.”

The men’s U23 team also includes Jonathan Davies (handicap -4.4), William Gray (handicap -4.4, Jonathan Hay (handicap -5.7), Charlie Hulson (handicap -4.1) and Marc Scott (handicap -2.7).

European and Commonwealth 800m finalist Jessica Judd (handicap -1.3) will be hoping to build on her dominant display in Merseyside last month when she lines up in the junior women’s team. Three members of the team will be making their European Cross debuts on Sunday including Phoebe Law (handicap 1.7), Georgina Outten (handicap 0.9) and Becky Straw (handicap 2.7) alongside 18 year old Lydia Turner (handicap 0.6) and Amy Griffiths (handicap 0.2) who competed in Belgrade last year.

The junior men’s team is made up of athletes making their debuts for GB & NI at a European Cross Country Championships. The highest placed eligible athlete at the trials at Sefton Park, Croydon Harriers’ Peter Chambers (handicap -3.3) will lead the team against the best athletes in Europe alongsideElliot Bowker (handicap -4.0), Jonathan Glen (handicap -3.4), Jac Hopkins (handicap -3.2), Michael Vennard (handicap -1.6) and Kieran Wood (handicap -3.7)

For full timetables and team lists, click here.

There will be BBC television coverage from 08:10 to 13:25 GMT on the BBC Red Button today.