Frisby athlete Mari Smith set for world championship debut

Mari (third from right) with the Great Britain team which won a team silver at the European Junior Cross Country Championships in France PHOTO MARK SHEARMAN EMN-160217-103215002

Mari (third from right) with the Great Britain team which won a team silver at the European Junior Cross Country Championships in France PHOTO MARK SHEARMAN EMN-160217-103215002

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A late change of heart paid off handsomely for in-form athlete Mari Smith with selection to run on the world stage for the first time.

The Frisby middle-distance runner was last week named in the British squad for the World University Cross Country Championships after a late decision to apply for the squad.

The University of Birmingham student will pull on the British vest for only the second time in her career on March 12 when she will compete against some of the world’s best in Italy.

But only after completing some emergency last-minute admin.

“It’s my first world event so it’s quite something,” Smith said.

“But I hadn’t really given it much thought and only put my name forward quite late on.

“I hadn’t get one piece of paperwork in by the morning of selection and got a call asking for my certificate of academic eligibility.

“I had to send them a scan of it there and then, so I was lucky they were patient.

“To be eligible you have to be between 18 and 28 and a student, but lots of top athletes are still associated with universities so it will be a very strong field.”

Seeing her name on the six-strong women’s squad sheet was just the latest highlight of a stellar winter season for the 19-year-old.

Smith made her British team debut at the European Junior Cross Country Championships in December and the following month won her first senior international vest when she represented England at the Great Edinburgh International Cross Country.

“It’s been the best season of my life and I can’t really imagine it going any better,” she added.

“It should set me up nicely for the track season.”

Her latest piece of good news came on the back of a strong sixth place finish and a team gold medal at the British Universities Cross Country Championships a fortnight ago.

It was an accomplished run in appalling conditions.

She said: “When we got to the course the weather was absolutely horrendous. The course was quite long at 6km and like a bog.

“It went better than I was expecting to be honest and I was pleased with my pace considering the conditions.”

A top six finish was made all the more impressive by the list of leading lights who followed her across the line, including Commonwealth Games finalist Jess Judd.

The news came as an unexpected bonus. Smith now pays little heed to who else is running, a tactic which helps her stay relaxed and unphased before big races.

“I looked at the results afterwards and saw that Jess Judd was running,” she added.

“I don’t particularly look at the starting lists - I just go and try to do my best now.

“It’s better to do that than to be looking at everything beforehand and worrying when there’s no reason to.”

A cold picked up as a result of the soaking forced her withdrawal from the BUCS National Indoor Championships, but a more-than-useful warm-up awaits at the National Cross Country Championships later this month at Donington Park.