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Athletics: A day of shock and awe in Edinburgh

As a tone setter for Scotland's great year of international sport the links between yesterday's Great Edinburgh Cross Country and the Commonwealth Games were obvious, but the domestic audience will hope that in competitive terms it also offered a taste of things to come on the golf course.

Garrett Heath battles Meresa Kahsay to win the men's 4K in Holyrood Park                 Photograph: Steve Cox
Garrett Heath battles Meresa Kahsay to win the men's 4K in Holyrood Park Photograph: Steve Cox

Just as in golf's Ryder Cup, athletics is essentially an individual sport in which a team dimension is occasionally introduced and just as we have become used to in golf in recent years, America's men were superb as individuals while their team was ultimately heavily beaten around Arthur's Seat.

In that team event a fine performance by the women of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the 6K took them from a distant third place to overall victory, all six counting athletes, including Scotland's Steph Twell, who came ninth, finishing in the top 10.

That represented quite a comeback after the event had kicked off with a disappointing effort by the GB & NI junior men, leaving them with it all to do going into the other races.

In spite of fine runs by Andy Vernon, who finished second and Callum Hawkins, the 21-year-old from the Kilbarchan club, who finished sixth as he began his campaign to try to get into the Commonwealth Games team as a 10,000 metres runner, further ground was lost in the senior men's race before that dominant showing by the women.

Having started that final race in third on a collective 124 points, 14 points behind the Europeans and 10 behind the Americans, it was, by the end, a commanding margin of victory for the hosts, their 159 point haul taking them 13 clear of the Europeans with the Americans a distant third on 203.

Yet the day's great triumph was surely that of Garrett Heath, a 28-year-old American who lined up against two of the greatest runners in history, Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia's three times Olympic and 15 time world champion, and Asbel Kiprop, the former Olympic and twice world 1500 metre champion, and took the honours.

Bekele's fifth-placed finish was nothing like as much of a shock as his 11th place here two years ago, after which he apologised for the way he had performed, having failed to be in the top 10 for the first time in any race since he was a junior.

Having set his sights on a first marathon in Paris this spring his weekly mileage is up to 50 times the distance he ran yesterday, hardly conducive to pace over a mere 4K.

Kiprop, meanwhile, admits that while he walked away physically unscathed from a car accident in November he had been shaken, but he looked impressive enough yesterday until Heath pulled away at the finish raising a question of whether he had misjudged things.

That said Heath has beaten him before, as recently as last September at the Great North Mile and he was a worthy winner, finishing a second clear of Bekele's fellow Ethiopian Meresa Kahsay with Kiprop a further six seconds back.

"It feels good any time of the season if you're beating those sort of guys," he said, registering some surprise of his own. "It's been five years since I've run cross country so I didn't have a whole lot of strategy coming in, it was more about running hard, try to get to the front and wait for the legs to die, but luckily they felt pretty good on the first lap and the second lap I just tried to bide my time.

"I knew the last five or six hundred metres was going to be tough and windy through the hill over there, so I just tried to wait there for it to open up a little bit and luckily I found my opening right before that last stream jump and took off."

His countryman Chris Derrick led the way in the men's senior 8K, but he was the only American to win any of the team events with GB & NI's Bobby Clay beating sister Alex into second place in the junior women's 6K, Europeans Alexis Miellet and Yemanebehernan Crippa claiming the first two spots in the junior men's 6K and Gemma Steel of GB & NI beating Europe's Fionnuala Britton at the head of that decisive senior women's 6K.

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