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Athletics: Bekele returns on a mission

IT is a New Year, a fresh start and traditional goals for Kenenisa Bekele and Fionnuala Britton as they look to invigorate themselves for the challenges of 2014 in the pursuit of past heights.

Both, consequently, may be a little keener than most to claim victory on Saturday when they hit the cross-country terrain of Holyrood Park for the annual Bupa Great Edinburgh International.

Three times an Olympic champion, Bekele has surrendered his crown as the world's pre-eminent distance runner to Mo Farah as injuries have removed his edge. However, his win in September's Great North Run, ahead of the Londoner, suggests he is not yet spent.

In what will be the 25th anniversary of the UK leg of the IAAF's global cross circuit, the Ethiopian must take on his brother Tariku, the Olympic bronze medallist in 2012, and Asbel Kiprop of Kenya, the race winner of the invitational four-kilometre 12 months ago. A sixth triumph in the capital for the veteran would hint that Farah should be keeping watch.

Britton will also defend her title and the loss of her European crown last month will have stung. Her conqueror in Belgrade, France's Sophie Duarte, has also been confirmed in Europe's squad in the three-team contest against the United States and Great Britain & Northern Ireland.

The Irishwoman, who recovered from a slip to secure a 16-second margin of victory in 2013, faces an additional challenge over 6km from Scotland's Steph Twell and her training partner Charlotte Purdue.

Europe's men, racing over 8km, include Spain's Alemayehu Bezabeh and Turkey's Polat Kemboi as they, and the hosts, attempt to dethrone the USA.

For the other three Scottish prospects in the British ranks, the televised showpiece is a chance to make a mark. Rhona Auckland and Callum Hawkins have already claimed European medals this winter, while Andrew Butchart receives an opportunity to confirm his ascent when he earns an international debut.

The 23-year-old works as a lifeguard at Gleneagles, but has increased his training commitments in a bid to make strides.

"The tricky part is fitting my athletics around my job," he said. "Athletics is the priority but I can't afford to stop working."

Twelve months ago, he was running out of time. However, a new regime drawn up by his coach Derek Easton has paid enough dividends that he will target the qualifying time for the Commonwealth Games over 1500 metres. Getting a maiden GB call-up will surely embolden him further.

"It doesn't feel like a milestone," he said. "But it is different. I run this race every year, but it will be good to be part of the main event rather than the Scottish Districts race. That will be good experience for me."

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