Fionnuala Britton and cross country running

Fionnuala Britton, European Cross Country champion 2011

Stick in the mud? Not this happy cross country champion

Well done to Fionnuala Britton on winning the Great Edinburgh Cross Country race today. What with winning the European title last month, she’s certainly on form – and no better time than in an Olympic year.

Of course, we’ll all say now that it’s a pity (nay a scandal) how cross-country is not an Olympic event. It used to be – up to 1924, and was won twice by Paavo Nurmi. (There was no women’s race.) It’s hard to find true mudlark conditions during a summer tournament (although the English summer would oblige at the London games), but surely any nearby park or racecourse would do the trick.

Britton has already qualified for the 3000 metres steeplechase, but word is that she’ll try to get in for the 5000 or 10,000 metres instead. Should that happen, prepare for serious hype and expectation in Ireland.

I never ran cross country in my underage athletics career. My older brother ran one at that time, though – a real mud-fest on the racecourse in Listowel. He remembered seeing a solitary shoe sticking up from a patch of mud, torn from its partner and its owner (who must have had a fairly interesting race from then on).

Nowadays, during my occasional daydreams about ‘what if I had kept up running? And was good at it? And got a US scholarship?’ I am aware that the American experience would involve many cross country races in winters a lot harsher that the mild, slanty rain of Ireland. That usually does the trick: retro-daydreaming is a dangerous business.

In other news from today’s event in Edinburgh, it’s sad to see that six-time world cross country champion Kenenisa Bekele finished well down the field in the men’s race. The great man is clearly some way from his best form – but there’s plenty of time for him to recover and challenge Mo Farah in London this summer.

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