The undeniable quality of Scottish distance running was illustrated once again as Olympic duo Andrew Butchart and Callum Hawkins were involved in an intriguing contest at the Liverpool Cross Challenge on Saturday (26 November). The pair established a significant lead from the outset, and it was Butchart, in a reversal of the 2014 result, who came out on top.
The event, which incorporates the European Cross Country Championships Trials, contained a number of household names yet it was the Scottish duo who dominated for the majority of the race. Butchart, who took sixth over 5,000m at the Olympics, pulled away from Hawkins to claim first in 28:37, eight seconds faster than his compatriot. Andy Vernon, victorious at Milton Keynes in the opening leg, took third (29:01).
Reflecting on his performance, Butchart said: “It was fun – the conditions suit me, being cold and hard underfoot. It would have been totally different if it had been cold and wet. I was really happy to pull off the win today; I’ve never won here before. It is great to get a win over Callum (Hawkins) because he is a phenomenal athlete.”
On the quality of runners taking part, Butchart added: “It was great to see four Olympians competing in this race; that’s massive. It just shows how important this race is. Hopefully future Olympians will stay true to where they came from and keep racing at events like this.”
Gemma Steel cemented her place on the British team with a measured and composed performance and her fourth successive victory at Sefton Park. Holding back with the leading runners until the final lap, the 31-year-old pressed ahead to finish the 8.1k course in 27:11, narrowly edging the in-form Charlotte Arter (27:12) with Rebecca Murray (27:13).
Steel’s winning time was 20 seconds quicker than her 2015 performance and bodes well for her chances at the upcoming championships: “Every time I run this race, it is like déjà vu – they seem to have all panned out in the same way. I go on auto-pilot for the first lap then tuck in behind whoever leads the race. It was very important to win this race and I believe I belong in this team and am looking forward to racing at the Euro Cross Championships.”
Image courtesy Gus Oakley