Great Edinburgh XCountry Preview: Mo Farah Opens His 2017 Season as Garrett Heath Goes for Four in a Row
January 5, 2017
On Saturday, four-time Olympic champ Mo Farah will open his 2017 season and try to avenge last year’s defeat to Garrett Heath at the Great Edinburgh XCountry. That showdown in the senior men’s 8K race, which also features Euro XC medallists Aras Kaya, Polat Kemboi Arikan and Callum Hawkins and U.S. Olympians Leonard Korir and Hillary Bor, is the marquee race, though there is also a women’s 6k, men’s and women’s junior 4K’s and a mixed-gender 4x1K relay. Euro XC champ Yasemin Can of Turkey is the woman to beat in the senior women’s 6K, where she’ll face Americans Marielle Hall and Sarah Pagano and Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack. Laura Muir, Kyle Merber and Will Leer headline the 4x1K relay.
This is a team event, with athletes representing either Great Britain, the United States or Europe. The top six finishers from each team in the senior races and the top four finishers from each team in the junior races will all count toward the team score, with the team with the lowest score across all four events being declared the winner. The 4x1K relay, which features eight teams, will not be scored.
We preview the races in more detail below but before we do that we should note that the Great Edinburgh XCountry isn’t even the best cross country meet in the world this week (though it is the best one we know of that you can watch in the USA). In Italy, the famed Campaccio cross country meet, which will be held on Friday, is LOADED. The men’s race features Olympic steeple champ Conseslus Kipruto of Kenya, plus Olympic 5k finalists Muktar Edris and Albert Rop, 7:58 steepler Jairus Birech, road 10k world record holder Leonard Patrick Komon and defending champ Imane Merga. Plus 36-year-old Dutchman/pacemaker extraordinaire Bram Som is in the field for some reason so watch for a fast first 400.
The women’s field is just as loaded, with Olympic 1500 champ Faith Kipyegon, Olympic 5k silver medallist Hellen Obiri, 2015 world 10k silver medallist Gelete Burka, Etenesh Diro Neda and defending World XC champ Agnes Tirop. If you know of a way to watch the races, let us know as they should be incredible.
Ok, on to our preview.
What: Great Edinburgh XCountry
When: Saturday, January 7. Mixed-gender 4x1K relay is at 8:29 a.m. ET, senior women’s 6K at 9:13 a.m. ET, senior men’s 8K at 9:50 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.
Where: Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, Scotland
How to watch: Stream it live on USATF.TV+ (requires subscription) starting at 8:15 a.m. ET (link here); replay available later in the day but, again, requires a subscription to watch. For UK viewers or those with a UK IP address, the event will be shown live on BBC One starting at 1:15 p.m. GMT as well as online on the BBC iPlayer.
Men’s 8K Race (9:50 a.m. ET): Mo Farah Looks to Stop Cross Country Machine Garrett Heath’s Three-Year Win Streak
U.S. team: Garrett Heath, Sam Chelanga, Leonard Korir, Stanley Kebenei, Morgan Pearson, Hillary Bor, Thomas Curtin, Marty Hehir, Daniel Winn
International athletes of note: Mo Farah, Callum Hawkins (9th Olympic marathon), Andy Vernon, Aras Kaya (Euro XC champ), Polat Kemboi Arikan (Euro 10k champ)
In our preview of last year’s 8k race, we noted that Garrett Heath, who won the 4k race in Edinburgh in 2014 and 2015, taking down the likes of Asbel Kiprop and Kenenisa Bekele, was a threat to win again, but ultimately we picked Mo Farah for the win. That strategy has rarely been wrong over the past six years, but Heath, who was a state champ in cross country skiing growing up in Minnesota, proved us wrong on the muddy Holyrood Park course, holding off Farah to win by two seconds. Though Heath hasn’t raced since August, we’re still not ruling him out for a win as he’s usually in great shape this time of year and is familiar and comfortable with the often sloppy course.
Farah, of course, is the big name and home favorite, but as last year proved, it doesn’t make sense to read too much into his result on Saturday. Even though Farah lost to Heath, he still went on to dominate the world on the track in 2016, adding two more Olympic titles to bring his tally to four. We give Farah props for showing up here (many of the world’s best runners skip cross country entirely); we only wish we could convince him to run World XC in two months. If Farah wants to try to earn GOAT (Greatest of All Time) status, a World XC title would be an important thing to have on his resume. Farah currently has loads of global track medals but no WRs, no World XC titles, and no marathon wins. Contrast that to Kenenisa Bekele. Bekele has loads of global track titles, a bunch of WRs, a ton of World XC titles and one marathon major win (Related: LRC Debate: After Berlin Who is the Greatest of All-Time – Kenenisa Bekele, Haile Gebrselassie or Mo Farah?)
Farah and Heath are both among the favorites, but considering neither man has raced in over three months, we have no idea what kind of shape they’re in. That’s not the case for several of the other guys in the field who have proven their fitness recently. The Turkish duo of Aras Kaya and Polat Kemboi Arikan went 1-2 at the European Cross Country Championships last month, and both men have run under 28:00 for 10,000 meters. Great Britain also has a couple of formidable entrants behind Farah in Callum Hawkins (9th Olympic marathon, 3rd Euro XC) and Andy Vernon (5th Euro XC, 1st at NY Midnight Run on New Year’s Eve in 18:27 for 4 miles).
The U.S. roster mostly consists of the top finishers from the Club XC Championships on December 10. Sam Chelanga, who joined coach Scott Simmons‘ American Distance Project in Colorado Springs last year, won that race and will run again on Saturday; he’ll be joined by training partners Leonard Korir (14th Olympic 10k), Hillary Bor (7th Olympic steeple) and Stanley Kebenei (8:18 steeple pb). Chelanga, in particular, is interesting. One of the NCAA’s all-time great cross country runners, he has yet to return to that form as a professional, but he’s getting back to his roots this year and running a serious cross country season. How will he handle the challenging Holyrood Park course?
The conditions don’t look to be too bad (high of 48 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday, with rain showers in the afternoon according to Weather.com), which should favor Farah. The sloppier the course gets, the smaller his fitness advantage becomes.
LRC Prediction: We know Heath has won a lot in the past but the weather looks decent and 8k is more of a long shot than 4k for him. We’ll go with Farah FTW.
Women’s 6K Race (9:13 a.m. ET): 2016 Olympian Marielle Hall and Sarah Pagano Lead U.S. Squad Against European Champ Yasemin Can
The women’s race doesn’t have the same star power as the men, but there’s still talent here. Turkey’s Yasemin Can finished in the top seven in both the 5k and the 10k in Rio and is coming off a win at the European Cross Country Championships. She is the favorite, though she’ll have countrywoman Meryem Akda (Euro XC silver) to push her. Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack (5th Euro XC) is a strong cross country runner was second here a year ago. Host Great Britain will be led by Steph Twell (6th Euro XC) and Gemma Steel (12th Euro XC, 2014 Euro XC champ).
Two names on the U.S. roster stand out: Marielle Hall and Sarah Pagano. Hall, 24, should be familiar to anyone paying attention to U.S. distance running in recent years. She made the U.S. World Championships team at 5k in 2015 before successfully transitioning to the 10k last year, where she ran 31:37 and booked her ticket to Rio. Though she hasn’t raced since November, she’s the most talented woman on the U.S. team. Pagano, a 2014 Syracuse grad, may not be as familiar to American fans but she’s a woman on the rise. Last year, she set PRs on the track at 5k (15:26) and 10k (32:16) and she’s continued to excel on the roads since then. She was second behind Emily Sisson at the U.S. 10k road champs in October, won the Big Sur Half Marathon in 73:05 in November, was second at Club XC and took the NY Midnight Run title on New Year’s Eve, clocking 21:06 for four miles. Pagano still has work to do before she’s in the mix for making a U.S. team on the track, but she’s trending in the right direction.
LRC Prediction: This one is easy to pick. Can is one of the top female distance runners in the world. The others aren’t. Can FTW.
Mixed-Gender 4x1K Relay (8:29 a.m. ET): Kyle Merber, Lianne Farber, Will Leer and Heather Kampf Go for the U.S.
The biggest name here is Laura Muir, the Diamond League 1500 champ who broke the British indoor 5k record with her stunning 14:49 in Glasgow on Wednesday. Muir was on the winning team last year representing Scotland, but this team she’ll be running for Great Britain with three new teammates. The U.S. team isn’t especially strong, but none of the other seven squads are loaded, either, which should make for a wide-open race. With such short legs, anything can happen in this race.
One other thing worth noting. We imagine many of you may not realize (as half the LetsRun.com staff didn’t realize it) but March’s March’s World Cross Country Championships in Uganda will have a mixed-gender relay for the first time this year. It will be held before the junior races and each team will run two runners of each gender one time around the course (2k loop normally).
LRC Prediction: We have no idea. Britain?
Talk about the meet on our fan forum: MB: Garrett Heath goes for #4 vs Mo Farah: 2017 Great Edinburgh XC preview.