Mari Smith wins Great Britain cross country team spot

Frisby athlete Mari Smith celebrates winning a team silver medal for Great Britain at the European Cross Country Championships at Toulon EMN-160212-131140002
Frisby athlete Mari Smith celebrates winning a team silver medal for Great Britain at the European Cross Country Championships at Toulon EMN-160212-131140002

Mari Smith will take the next step up the international ladder on Sunday when she runs for Great Britain at the European Cross Country Championships.

The Frisby athlete only recently moved up from the under 20s age group to the under 23s after turning 20 last month, but qualified for the six-strong women’s team at the first time of asking.

She was the fifth U23 runner across the line at the team trials in Liverpool.

It was just outside the top four automatic qualifying spots, but Mari was picked for one of the two remaining places based on form and experience.

“It’s really good to leap from under 20s to under 23s and I’ve been told to get in the team first time is pretty hard so I’m very happy,” she said.

“I felt good the night before, but wasn’t sure how much of a chance I had of getting in the team.

“I’m really looking forward to it and just want to enjoy the experience.

“GB are always one of the teams to look out for at the Europeans so I’m sure we will have a good chance.”

The step-up saw the under 23s race alongside the senior women over an 8km course – twice the distance Mari ran with the under 20s last year.

But she met her target of an overall finish within the top 30, crossing the line in 22nd, just 50 seconds behind the senior women’s winner Gemma Steel.

“I made sure I didn’t go off too quickly an sat back a bit on the first lap,” she added.

“You don’t go out to finish with the top few women because they are so much stronger.”

Mari, who won team silver with Great Britain at the European Junior Championships 12 months ago, arrived in peak condition despite a freak injury.

“About a month ago I dropped a cup of tea on my foot and had a second degree burn so couldn’t run for a week,” she said.

“Thankfully it was far enough out not to affect me too much.

“The race had been an aim for quite a few months before, but I had up and down preparation for it.

“But in the last couple of weeks the training really came together and seemed to peak at just the right time.”

Her good cross country form - she anchored her University of Birmingham U20s team to gold at the National Relay at Mansfield last month - came on the back of a magnificent track season.

She lowered her 1500m personal best to 4min 19.63secs in July, 13 seconds lower than the mark at the start of the season, and also set a new 800m PB of 2min 07.28secs.

There were also silver medals to savour at the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) Championships and national under 23s championships.

As well as a change in age group, Mari has also had to adapt to other changes this autumn including a move away from Leicester Coritanians and her long-term coach Bill Winter to train with Birchfield Harriers.

“It was sad, but Bill thought it was the best move for me,” she said.

“The club has split off into lots of separate groups and there was no longer a senior women’s team for me to run with.”