Olympians Callum Hawkins and Andy Butchart are ready to add their star dust to the Cumbernauld mud at the National XC Relays on Saturday.
The first event of the Lindsays Cross Country Season has established itself in recent years and is now a firm favourite on the sport’s calendar in Scotland.
In fact, Scottish Athletics are delighted with record entry numbers of 2390 athletes from U13s to Seniors and Masters – the biggest fields in 24 years of combined championships for men and women.
Butchart’s Central AC are looking for a fifth successive win in the Senior Men’s race while Hawkins represents Kilbarchan AAC, who took West District silver medals two weeks ago to Shettleston Harriers at Kilmacolm.
The GB team-mates from Rio may not go directly head-to-head, with each team fielding four men, but the last time they both ran the National XC Relays at Cumbernauld in October 2014 there were only three seconds between them on lap times – with Butchart fastest at 12.20 for the 4K course and Callum at 12.23.
Mark Munro, appointed chief executive with Scottish Athletics last week, believes the presence of Olympians just adds a further layer of excitement to an occasion where more than 60 clubs will be represented.
‘This is one of the biggest events in our year and having people like Andy and Callum racing in club vests only adds to that,’ said Munro.
‘It is always a great start to the cross country season in terms of the National events. Clubs are showing a big commitment to cross country and the numbers are fantastic.
‘There’s clear evidence of growth in the sport. And the important thing from my perspective is that athletics is founded on competition and more people getting out to race means better competition. That helps drive us standards.
‘We’ve seen Callum and Andy in action here a number of times over the past few years and Laura Muir has been a key supporter of the early season cross country events, as well. So the pathway is obvious and that’s a huge motivation for our young athletes.
‘It is the clubs who are making this big commitment and have created the rise in entries. At Cumbernauld, we are indebted to our course hosts, North Lanarkshire Leisure, and our event sponsors, Lindsays.
‘That kind of support and sponsorship allows us to put on the best possible events, with chip timing, video footage and so on. There’s big interest on social media, too, and the whole community is engaged which is brilliant.’
East champions Central AC look hard to beat in the Senior Women’s race with the trio of Jennifer Wetton, Fiona Thompson and Morag MacLarty having won at Livingston. But this year there will be a new element to that race at Cumbernauld with Senior Women’s teams having four to count – bringing it into line with the Men’s race.
Giffnock North and Kilbarchan AAC defend their titles in the races for Young Females and Young Males respectively, with each team of three fielding one athletes each from U13, U15 and U17 age groups.
The action at Cumbernauld Park starts at 12 noon. See www.scottishathletics.org.uk