Frisby runner Mari Smith set for British team debut

Mari Smith (977) enjoyed good late season form on the track in 2015 EMN-150212-105426002
Mari Smith (977) enjoyed good late season form on the track in 2015 EMN-150212-105426002
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A long wait will finally come to an end when athlete Mari Smith pulls on the Great Britain vest for the first time later this month.

Smith heads to the European Cross Country Championships with a high-calibre GB junior team after a brilliant performance in the British Cross Challenge.

With a top five finish guaranteeing selection, the Frisby runner finished fourth in the under 20s race at Liverpool, an event which doubled as the European trials.

The only girls to beat Smith to the line were current junior internationals Bobby Clay, Harriett Knowles-Jones and Amy Griffiths.

She said: “I’m really excited. I’ve been waiting for a long time to get my first GB vest so it’s a big deal for me.

“I’m running really strongly at the minute; I don’t think I’ve ever been fitter.”

The 19-year-old puts her blistering form down to a change in scenery since leaving the Wreake Valley for student life at the University of Birmingham.

Just before the European trials, she finished an excellent third at the Birmingham Senior Women’s League behind two senior internationals including Commonwealth Games finalist Jessica Judd.

“I really enjoy training here at uni and think I just needed a change from home,” Smith added.

“I got too much into the same routine and since I came back from injury and illness I just needed a fresh start.

“The group is bigger here and there is always someone to train with whereas at home it could be one or two or on your own.”

The Europeans, to be held in Toulon, will be a big step-up from Smith’s previous national experience when she ran for England Schools three years ago.

She joins a British team strongly touted for medals. Clay pipped Griffiths to the European junior 1500m crown this year, while Knowles-Jones was fourth over the same distance at the World Youth Championships.

But having waited for so long for her chance, Smith is determined to approach race day in the south of France, on Sunday, December 13, with no targets in mind.

“I’m just going to enjoy it,” she said. “I’m loving training and everything again and I’m really fit at the moment so I should feel strong in the race.

“I was put off cross country when I wasn’t very well, but now I’m better and a lot more confident than last year.”

But her coach Bill Winters is confident his student could earn more opportunities to wear the red, white and blue.

“The likelihood is our junior women are so powerful as a unit, the GB team will certainly get a medal, and probably win gold,” he said.

“Hopefully she well compete well and should also be picked for the GB team for the Great Edinburgh Cross Country against the USA and Europe in January.”