In-form athlete Mari Smith got a taste of the big time on Saturday when she made her senior international debut live on BBC TV, writes CHRIS HARBY
The Frisby runner was rewarded for her superb recent performances with a late call-up to the four-strong England team for the Great Edinburgh International Cross Country.
Smith ran the anchor leg for England in the relay and brought her country home in fourth place, just 12 seconds behind the winners.
Adding to the sense of occasion, Smith shared the same hotel as Britain’s double world and Olympic champion Mo Farah.
“I saw Mo talking with Brendan Foster at breakfast,” she said. “You see guys like him on TV and then see him at breakfast and it puts it into perspective that he’s an athlete just like us.”
The 19-year-old was busy at university when she received a call-up to the England team just 48 hours before the event as a replacement for the injured Naomi Taschimowitz.
While naturally excited to receive the news, it did mean a slight change of plan.
“I had a bio-chemistry exam on Monday so I had been expecting to revise over the weekend,” she said.
“They said I’d been selected because I ran well at the European Championships and my 800m was quite fast.
“I was very excited. Since the new year I’m no longer considered a junior so I didn’t think I would be called on this soon.”
The event came hot on the heels of her British team debut at the European Championships last month where Smith finished an excellent 22nd and helped the junior team to the silver medal.
The relay marked unchartered territory for the Leicester Coritanian with each runner completing a 1km leg.
The format, designed as an added spectacle for TV viewers, pitted Smith against top international athletes, including Laura Muir who finished fifth at last year’s World Championships over 1500m.
“I hadn’t run a cross country that short since I was about 11 and had never run a relay.
“I didn’t realise how big the relay was going to be until I got there and TV were hyping it up as one of the three big events of the day alongside the men’s and women’s senior races.
“The atmosphere was pretty good and the relay was exciting to run in.”
Smith made a sensational start, moving England up two places into second, but tired in the last 300m and was pipped to a podium spot by Great Britain and Ireland. Just three seconds separated the three runners at the tape.
But Smith had finished just 12 seconds behind Muir and winners Scotland A, and beaten the United States and Europe.
“I think I did pretty well, especially as one of the younger people in the race,” she added.
“I knew I was going to be up against Laura Muir and thought ‘oh well!’, but it was very exciting to compete in this kind of field.
“I thought, ‘It’s only a 1km’ so I set off really fast and cleared the guys into second really quickly, but I paid for it later on.”