McCormack battles Africans to snatch 3rd at Antrim International XC

18 January 2016

Ireland's top cross country runner Fionnuala McCormack, battled her way to a highly credible 3rd place against some world class African opposition at the weekend's Antrim International Cross Country at Greenmount, where the competitors had to contend with some of the worst underfoot conditions in the 39 year history of the event.

The energy sapping mud in the 5.6 K race did not however seem to deter the diminutive Fionnuala who stormed into the lead from the gun with GB arch rival Kate Avery and 2014 winner Mimi Belete of Bahrain in close proximity. These positions changed on the second lap when Kenya's Alice Nawowuna forged to the front along with Mimi.  Fionnuala drifted back to 4th ahead of Kate who seemed to struggle with some particularly muddy sections.

On the final lap Alice broke away from the field for a surprising victory in 18 mins 5 secs some 4 secs ahead of Mimi.  Twice previous winner Fionnuala showed her usual grit in the closing stages to claw her way back to 3rd some 3 secs ahead of Kate. This reversed the positions in Edinburgh the previous week when Kate Avery took the spoils. Both girls left some classy Africans in their wake not to mention the U23 European champion Louise Carton of Belgium who was 7th.

Winner Alice Nawowuna admitted to virtually never racing over the country and considered Greenmount as something of "an experiment". The 22 year old who is the African 10,000 metres champion and 12th fastest in the World last year said her top priority is the Rio Olympics next summer. 

Fionnuala who is also destined for Rio in the marathon was pleased to make the rostrum again. She said; "This past week has been good for me. I didn't know what to expect today as the race was very much up and down. Conditions were very hard. I am not sure if this was a better performance than Edinburgh but I gave my best in both races".

European silver medallist Kate Avery commented; "I think I performed well today as a beat some really good girls. Conditions were a lot worse than Edinburgh."

Top NI finisher Kerry O'Flaherty said she was delighted with 11th place which was her best ever position.

The Men's event which was reduced to 8K was also loaded with African talent with twice previous winner Thomas Ayeko of Uganda, who was determined not to give up  his title without a fight. He broke away early on but was accompanied by serious threat Aweke Ayalew of Bahrain who was 10th in last year's World Cross Country in China.

These two seemed to glide effortlessly over the mud, along with World 1,500 metres finalist Timothy Cheruiyot of Kenya who was racing over cross country for the first time.  Thomas and Aweke fought a pitched battle over the last 400 metres, with Aweke just denying his rival a hat trick of victories though both were given the same time of 21 mins 25 secs.  

20 year old 3rd place finisher Thomas Cheruiyot was delighted to make the rostrum in his first race.  Winner Aweke commented; "I didn't mind the mud. I preferred this course to China. I hope to make Rio for the 10,000 metres." 

Top UK finisher was Scotland's Andrew Butchart who went one better than his Edinburgh run with an excellent 6th place.  He said; "I am really happy with that run as I worked off some of the best runners in the world. I was very impressed with the support here".

Double European Junior champion Yemaneberhan Crippa of Italy never looked comfortable and had to settle for 13th place. City of Derry's Declan Reed was first NI finisher in 17th place.


Full results can be found on


Event images can be found on