International Team Challenge Takes Center Stage in Edinburgh

The highlight of the Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country will be the inaugural International Team Challenge featuring squads from Great Britain, the United States, and Europe clashing on one of the world's most storied cross country courses. The 8 km race will be held on the same Holyrood Park course as the 2008 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, and the British team is keen to build on their successes from both the European Athletics and Cross Country Championships in 2010 where they scored big medal hauls.

"It's great that we've got an early opportunity to continue the forward momentum for U.K. endurance running with a high quality international competition so early in the New Year," said Ian Stewart, the Olympic 5000m bronze medallist who heads up U.K. Athletics endurance initiatives. "We've had a brilliant 2010, most recently in the European Cross Country Championships where we finished top of the medal table."

Stewart has good reason to be optimistic given that Europe's #1 distance runner, Mo Farah, leads the 9-man British squad. Farah, who won the European titles at both 5000m and 10,000m last summer in Barcelona, is also a talented harrier, winning the European cross country title in 2006, and twice taking the silver medal. In remarks made to the Independent's Simon Turnbull, Farah was careful not to be overconfident.

"It was a great year but I have to forget about it," Farah said. "We're in 2011 now. It's a World Championship year and I'm excited about that. I'm getting closer [to the Kenyans and Ethiopians] and I believe I can be up there with them."

Farah's wingman was to be Chris Thompson, the European Championships 10,000m silver medallist. But the Aldershot Farnham & District athlete, who trains with the Nike Oregon Track Club in Eugene under coach Mark Rowland, had to withdraw from the meet with a hip injury. That leaves Andy Vernon and Tom Humphries as Farah's key lieutenants.

Both the American and Europe "Select" teams will be hard for the British to beat. Even with the withdrawal of 2009 IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships bronze medallist Dathan Ritzenhein with a slight ankle injury, the USA team is still solid, led by multiple NCAA champion Galen Rupp. American road 10-K champion Ed Moran, two-time IAAF World Cross Country competitor Scott Bauhs, and recently crowned Emerald Nuts Midnight Run champion Stephen Furst are also on the Yankee squad.

The European select team has two big guns: Ukraine's Sergey Lebid, the 9-time European cross country champion, and Spain's Ayad Lamdassam, the 2010 European Cross Country Championships silver medallist. France's Abdellatif Meftah, Belgium's Jeroen D'Hoedt, and Spain's Jesus España can all contend for top-5 individual spots.

Six men on each team will be counted using traditional cross country scoring.

There is also an invitational 4-K event for men --led by the powerful Kenyans Eliud Kipchoge, Asbel Kiprop, and Brimin Kipruto, each of whom possesses at least one Olympic or IAAF World Championships gold medal-- and an invitational women's 6-K --led by world track champions Linet Masai and Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya, and European Cross Country Champion Jessica Augusto of Portugal.