WEYNAY GHEBRESILASIE bids to become the seventh Sunderland Harrier to win a North of England Cross Country title on Saturday.
The exciting 18-year-old competes in the junior (under-20) championship over 8k at Knowsley Safari Park, near Liverpool.
This will be the Eritrean Olympian’s third race for the Wearsiders since seeking asylum in Sunderland after walking out of the Olympic village.
Despite the bad weather, Ghebresilasie has been enjoying training in snow for the first time.
He dislikes training on the roads, like all Africans, preferring the softer surface of the country under his feet.
But being based in Millfield, there is little countryside close by where he can train to his heart’s content.
But the Harriers’ have come to his aid, by introducing him to their cross country course at Farringdon, a fast track through Penshaw Woods and the scenic Herrington Country Park, the venue for the National Cross Country Championships on Saturday, February 23.
He has been up to his ankles in mud, snow and ice, but has relished the conditions, a good learning curve before his Safari Park quest.
The former soldier’s introduction to the English cross country season has got off to a perfect start.
He clocked the fastest time in the North Eastern Harrier League at Jarrow in December and recorded the quickest time in the Durham Cathedral Relays ten days ago. In 2011 he finished 30th as a first year junior in the World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria in Spain. There was only one non-African in the top 30, in 29th, with the leading Brit being Jonny Hay in 39th.
With a time of 8.28.97 for the 3000m steeplechase to his name, faster than any British athlete ran last year, Ghebresilasie seems ideally suited to cross country running.
But he is not a lover of the race over the sticks, saying he was forced into the steeplechase by the Eritrean Olympic management. And he has no plans to compete in the event this year.
This will be the 6ft 2in athlete’s first real race since joining the Harriers’ – his previous two forays were a handicap race and a relay.
Sunderland’s first northern champion was Arthur Ridley, the youths’ winner in 1938.
Then there was a long wait before Brooks Mileson won the same title in 1966. He went on to win the national title at Graves Park in Sheffield.
English Schools’ 1500m champion Stewart Mathieson triumphed in the boys’ northern in 1985 and Brian Rushworth scooped the club’s only senior title in 1989 before winning the Inter Counties crown at Corby.
Stephen Barker got the verdict to win gold in a photo finish for the boys’ title in 1994 at Birkenhead.
In 2000, England football international Jill Scott became the first Sunderland Harrier to win a female title with victory in the under-13s.
She went on to win the junior girls’ Great North Run.
The Northern Championships is one of the major races of the Harriers’ cross country grand prix and at least eight points are up for grabs.
There are prizes for the first five and the leaders are: Paul Redman 33pts, Aimee Adey 29, Len Christopher 28, Dean Phillips 28, Nathan Reed 28, Steve Graham 26, Helen Higgins 25, Steve Gordon 23, Michael Hill 22, Paul Merrison 22, Peter Richardson 21, Susan Clughen 19, Alan Hodgson 18 and Craig Isherwood 17.