Charnwood’s Gemma Steel secured her fourth successive victory at Saturday’s (26 November) Liverpool Cross Challenge at Sefton Park. The event, which incorporates the European Cross Country Championships Trials, also witnessed an intriguing contest in the men’s field between Olympians Andrew Butchart and Callum Hawkins, with the former (in a reverse of the 2014 event) coming out on top.
Steel cemented her place on the British team with a measured and composed performance. 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) and 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: “To make it four in a row is surreal. I didn’t expect to come back and run this way after Milton Keynes (Cross Challenge).
“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.”
The men’s start list illustrated the strength of the field with a host 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).
On the race, and the quality of runners competing, Butchart said: “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. 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.”