Great Edinburgh XCountry Preview: Can Garrett Heath Take Down Mo Farah In Their 2016 Openers?
January 7, 2016
Mo Farah‘s road to the 2016 Summer Olympics kicks off on Saturday in Edinburgh, Scotland, as he will run his first cross country race in five years at the Great Edinburgh XCountry meet. Farah will run the senior 8K race, where he’ll face U.S. Club Cross champ Garrett Heath (who has won in Edinburgh the past two years) plus the four men who made up Spain’s Euro XC-winning squad, led by 12:57 man Alemayehu Bezabeh. The women’s 6K race features two-time Euro XC runner-up (and former Iona star) Kate Avery taking on collegiate rival Emma Bates plus Americans Amy Van Alstine and Rochelle Kanuho. There’s also a mixed-gender 4x1K relay and junior races.
The junior and senior races will be team-scored, with Great Britain, Europe and the United States fielding squads in each race.
We preview the races in more detail below.
What: Great Edinburgh XCountry
When: Saturday, January 9. Mixed-gender 4x1K relay is at 8:06 a.m. ET, senior women’s 6K at 8:30 a.m. ET, senior men’s 8K at 8:57 a.m. There are junior boys’ and girls’ races that won’t be shown on TV. You can access the entries for those races here: Junior Men’s start list & Junior women’s start list
Where: Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, Scotland
How to watch: Stream it live on USATF.tv starting at 8 a.m. ET (link here); replay available later in the day on USATF.tv. For UK viewers, the event will be shown live on BBC One starting at 1 p.m. GMT.
Men’s 8K Race (8:57 a.m. ET): Mo Farah Makes His 2016 Debut in His First XC Race in Five Years
Though the men’s 8K field also includes European XC runner-up Alemayehu Bezabeh of Spain and American Garrett Heath, who has won in Edinburgh the past two years (granted over the shorter 4K distance), the headliner is undoubtedly the planet’s greatest distance runner: Mo Farah. Farah had planned to race in Edinburgh last year but withdrew after suffering from the flu; all indications are that he will toe the line for real on Saturday.
While Farah’s skills on the track and roads are well-known, his cross country ability is something of a question mark. The 8K distance obviously suits Farah well and he’s not a complete stranger to cross country, claiming a gold and three silvers at the European XC Championships from 2006-2009. He also won this race in 2011, defeating Galen Rupp 25:41-25:50. That was a long time ago, though — Farah had no global track medals then and now he has eight — and since that day, Farah hasn’t run a single cross country race (neither has Rupp, for that matter).
Farah’s utter dominance of the distance running world over the past five years means that it would be foolish to bet against him, but the timing of the race and the unpredictable conditions (rain is in the forecast for the next few days, including race day, which could make the course very muddy) could lead to an upset. No one expected Garrett Heath to beat Asbel Kiprop and Kenenisa Bekele over 4K two years ago; no one expected him to win that race again last year. Depending on where each is at in their respective training cycles, Heath could certainly challenge Farah here, as we know he’s in good cross country shape — he won the U.S. Club Championships on December 12.
Bezabeh (12:57 5k pb) leads a strong Spanish contingent, which also includes Adel Mechaal (3rd at Euro XC), Ayad Lamdassem (4th at Euro XC) and Ilias Fifa (5th at Euro XC, 13:05 5k last year). Aside from Heath, they are the only men Farah needs to concern himself with; no one else on the British or American teams are a threat.
Farah has already stated that he doesn’t plan on running World Indoors and has announced just one other race this winter: a 3,000 in Glasgow on February 20. Farah always picks his races carefully, and it’s unlikely he’d decide to run Edinburgh only to be embarrassed on home soil. He’ll be in shape, and if that’s the case, he’s our pick for the win.
Full men’s start list below:
Women’s 6K Race (8:30 a.m. ET): Former NCAA Star Kate Avery, U.S. Club Champion Amy Van Alstine and Two-Time Euro XC Champ Fionnuala McCormack to Do Battle
The women’s senior race is more open than the men’s and it’s easy to envision any of the three teams ending up with the individual champion. Great Britain’s chances rest on the shoulders of Kate Avery, who claimed her second consecutive runner-up finish at the European XC Champs last month. The 2014 NCAA XC champ at Iona, Avery also finished 15th at Worlds in the 10k in August. Two spots behind her was Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack (formerly Britton), who will be representing Europe on Saturday. This is already McCormack’s fourth cross country race of the season (she won a race in Dublin on November 22, was second to Linet Masai in Alcobendas, Spain, on November 29 and then took fourth at Euro XC on December 13) so she’ll be prepared.
The U.S. team is led by the Northern Arizona Elite duo of Amy Van Alstine and Rochelle Kanuho. Van Alstine, the 2014 U.S. XC champ, won Club Cross on December 12, defeating Laura Thweatt by one second. Kanuho was third in that race less than a week after running a 2+ minute 10k pb of 32:08 in Sacramento. Both women figure to be in contention for the individual title.
Full women’s start list below:
Mixed-Gender 4x1K Relay (8:06 a.m. ET): Riley Masters, Nicole Bush, Cory Leslie and Melissa Salerno Go for the U.S.
This eight-team race should be fun to watch as a 1K leg on a cross country course is short enough for anything to happen. On paper, the best teams appear to be the U.S. (featuring Riley Masters, Nicole Bush and Cory Leslie), Great Britain (featuring Charlie Grice, who 9th at Worlds in the 1500), Europe (the duo of Belgium’s 3:51 miler Pieter-Jan Hannes and Euro Indoor 1500 champ Jakub Holusa of the Czech Republic) and Scotland A (featuring Steph Twell and World Champs 1500 5th placer Laura Muir).
Full International Relays start list below: