Mo Farah will be looking to lay down an early Olympic year marker when he leads the British challenge against the USA and Europe in the Great Edinburgh International XCountry meeting, live on BBC One, at Holyrood Park on Saturday.
Global attention will be focused on the home hero of London 2012 as Farah begins the countdown to the defence of his Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m crowns at Rio 2016 in the men’s 8km race, in the shadow of Arthur's Seat on the south side of Scotland’s capital city.
The feature event in the three-way international challenge match, will be the 32-year-old Briton’s first test since September last year, when he finished his trailblazing 2016 season in fitting style with a victory in a British and European course record time in the Great North Run.
Farah, who took his tally of global track titles to a magnificent seven with the successful defence of his World Championship 5,000m and 10,000m crowns in Beijing last August, will be tackling his first cross country race for five years – since he triumphed in Edinburgh in January 2011.
“It will be an important year for me in 2016 and I’m looking forward to returning to the Great Edinburgh International XCountry to kick off my season,” he said. “For many years cross country was a key building block for the year ahead and I’m pleased to add it to my schedule for the first time since I ran in Edinburgh back in 2011.”
Just five months before that Holyrood victory, Farah had claimed his first major outdoor title with a stunning 10,000m triumph at the 2010 European Championships in Barcelona. Ayad Lamdassem, the Spaniard who tried to break him in that race – leading with three laps to go but fading to fourth – will be one of his rivals again on his return to Edinburgh.
Lamdassem finished fourth in the senior men’s race at the European Cross Country Championships in Hyeres, France, last month and will be joined in the Team Europe line-up by fellow Spaniards Alemayehu Bezabeh and Adel Mechaal, who placed second and third respectively.
Farah will be joined in the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team by Jonny Davies, fresh from his victory in the Under 23 race in Hyeres.
Team USA features Garrett Heath, who claimed a host of major scalps with his shock victories in the 2014 and 2015 4km short course races in Edinburgh. The stars and stripes squad also includes Kirubel Erassa, winner of the junior men’s race at Holyrood in 2012.
The senior women’s 6km race pits 2015 European Cross Country Championship runner-up Kate Avery of Shildon AC against GB team-mate and 2014 European champion Gemma Steel and Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack, winner of the continental crown in 2011 and 2012 under her maiden name of Britton.
McCormack is likely to be the leading challenger from Team Europe, while Team USA includes Amy Van Alstine, winner of the recent US Clubs Cross Country title.
Although not part of the main three-way match between Britain, the USA and Europe, the mixed 4x 1km International Team Relay is guaranteed to provide strong home interest with the first appearance in 2016 of Scottish Athlete of the Year Laura Muir.
Muir, who graduated to world class status as a 1500m runner in the 2015 season,
finishing fifth at the World Championships and smashing the four minutes barrier, will be partnered by former World Junior 1500m champion Steph Twell, former European Junior 1500m champion Jake Wightman and Cameron Boyek in a strong Scotland A squad.
Organisers of the event have introduced the ‘Stewart Cup’ for the victorious team. Named after Scottish running legends Ian and Lachie Stewart, the cup will be presented for the first time to the winning team in the International Relay at Holyrood Park.
The Great Britain quartet includes 2010 European 800m silver medallist Michael Rimmer and 2015 World Championship 1500m finalist Charlie Grice.
The junior men’s 6km race features Italy’s European Junior 3000m steeplechase champion Yohanes Chiappinelli, who will be representing Team Europe, while European Junior Cross Country silver medallist Harriet Knowles-Jones and European Junior 1500m champion Bobby Clay line up for Britain in the junior women’s 6km event.
Before the elite event on Saturday a record number of participants will take part in the Pure Gym Great Winter Run. 3000 amateur participants will start the New Year with a scenic the 5k, which takes in Arthur’s Seat, followed by the Junior Great Winter Run for seven to fourteen year olds.
There is still time to get involved, entries are being taken at the Jury's Inn Hotel, 43 Jeffery Street today, Thursday 7 January from 14.00 – 18.00 and Friday 8 January from 10.00 – 16.00.
The event will be shown live on BBC One between 13:00 – 14:30 and is completely free to spectate, so tune in or come along and enjoy all the action as well as tasty treats from Stoats Porridge Oats, Union of Genius Soup Kitchen, Risotto to Go and the Italian Coffee Bar.