With thanks to Gus Oakley of Ayr Seaforth for photographs
Scotland’s endurance community is revelling in a feel-good factor after a series of superb performances at the British Cross Challenge and Euro Trials in Liverpool.
Four Scots – Callum Hawkins, Andrew Butchart, Rhona Auckland and Luke Caldwell – are now guaranteed slots in Team GB and NI at the Euro Cross in Bulgaria in a fortnight.
Steph Twell looks odds-on to join them in the Senior Women’s selection and U20 Jonny Glen could yet take the Scottish contingent to six in a team of 36.
It really was a remarkable overall display with three Scots in the top four of the Men’s race as Hawkins beat Butchart in a dramatic finish and Caldwell finished fourth while in the Women’s three in the top 10 with Auckland third (second U23), Twell in seventh and Eilish McColgan at ninth in a rare cross country outing.
In truth, at least two dozen Scots from U17 age group and upwards could head home from Sefton Park feeling they had more than fulfilled their potential on a day when more than 100 took part in a great show of commitment to competition.
No wonder Sefton Park commentator Geoff Wightman was moved to boom over the sound system: ‘It’s yet another stunning cross-Border raid from Scotland . . .’
Credit the individual coaches involved and clubs, many of whom made group travel arrangements and offered subsidised buses for younger athletes and families.
Hawkins (29.26) will lead the British U23 challenge in Samokov and, like Auckland, could be in contention for the individual medals there.
Callum and Andrew were closely matched for most of the race, but it was the Kilbarchan athlete who surged away to guarantee selection for the GB and NI team for the trip to Bulgaria. An explosive finish from Ross Millington saw the Stockport Harrier finish three seconds behind Butchart for a well-deserved third place.
Hawkins said: ‘I didn’t have a great race in Leeds a couple of weeks ago but I’m really happy that I returned and changed the score this time around. I was thinking he’s tiring (Andrew Butchart) so I’ll get him on the corner and maybe get in his head a little bit and it seemed to work.
‘I’m really please, that’s been my focus since the Commonwealth Games and hopefully I can sneak a medal in Bulgaria. I’ve got the engine to do it.’
Butchart tweeted later: ‘So happy to get the job done. The Scots do it again! Euro tickets booked.’
Shettleston’s Tewolde Mengisteab, representing Scotland on Saturday, finished 14th after being with the leaders early on while David Bishop was 23rd to make it five Scots in the top 25. Inverclyde’s Craig Ruddy, also wearing a Scotland vest, was 44th with Central’s Alex Hendry at 41st.
Rhona Auckland and Eilish McColgan midway through the Women’s race (photo by Joyce Hogg)
Auckland was only three seconds adrift of Emelia Gorecka in race won well by Gemma Steel. Rhona was seventh in the U23s at the Euros last year, when she won team gold in Belgrade.
‘It was a good race,’ said the Banchory Stonehaven/Edinburgh Uni athlete. ‘I was just off the pack, out of trouble, but I got a bit annoyed when I realised I’d missed the break. But I picked it up again and caught people.
‘The race in Bulgaria is a little bit shorter than here – 6k – but I just want to see if I can improve on seventh place I managed last year. I have to be pleased I’m getting consistency of GB selection in cross country and it has been a good season so far.’
Twell was fifth in Senior Women’s terms, outside the guaranteed top four, but is hopeful of a pick with Kate Avery due to come into the six-strong GB team after NCAA victory in the States.
‘I feel the Euro Cross is part of my bread and butter so I’d love to be there again,’ said Steph.
‘I’ve been training well and ran well in the 10K at Leeds but I got a wee bit excited on the run-in and when that happens in cross country my posture goes a little. I am tighter on the track and I did tire a bit. I maybe went too hard, too early.
Glen was sixth in the Men’s U20 in terms of eligible British athletes and thus looks to have a decent case for selection for Bulgaria. It was a brave effort by the Inverclyde athlete as he came through from around 20th place at halfway.
Kilbarchan’s Euan Gillham was 12th and Giffnock’s Neil Gourley was 14th and Michael Ferguson of Aberdeen was 16th; to make it an impressive four Scots in the top 16 at that age-group.
Central AC’s Kathryn Gillespie was the best-placed Scot at U20 level, in 13th, with Stephanie Pennycook of Edinburgh Uni at 20th.
Down the age-groups there were race wins for Emma Frew of Ayr Seaforth and Erin Wallace of Giffnock North with a second place for Isla Ward of Giffnock North and a thirds for Hamish Armitt and Heather Barnes of Giffnock North.
There were fourth places for Connor Maclean of Stornoway and Kilbarchan AAC’s Laura Stark.
Well done to all those clubs, athletes and coaches who made the effort to compete at a higher level and will benefit from the experience.