Athletics: Teen Twell tipped for top finish in Edinburgh

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The Independent Online

The European junior champion Stephanie Twell is more than capable of holding her own against more senior opposition in next month's BUPA Great Edinburgh International Cross Country, according to race officials.

The Aldershot teenager, who is tipped to follow in the footsteps of Paula Radcliffe, will face world class opponents at the Holyrood Park venue on 12 January. Organisers are adamant Twell, the first girl to win a second European junior title with victory in Spain earlier this month, can make an impact on the race.

The 18-year-old faces last year's top two Edinburgh finishers, Gelete Burka, of Ethiopia and Vivian Cheruiyot the Kenyan who won the World Championships 5,000 metres silver medal in the summer.

"Don't forget Steph was 10th last year and did exactly that in the early stage of the race," said Andy Caine, the event's elite athletes manager.

"Twell's coming to Edinburgh a year older in both strength and experience and having spoken with her after her win in Toro [Spain], I know she's looking forward to racing in Scotland again.

"This young woman is quite serious that she wants to rise to the very top and medal at the 2012 Olympic Games. She knows Paula [Radcliffe] took on the best as an 18-year-old newcomer and has no hang-ups with trying to follow in her footsteps."

Louise Damen, Hayley Yelling and sister-in-law Liz Yelling, who were in the Norwich Union GB which took team silver medals in Toro, also compete.

The men's race features an eagerly-awaited clash between world champion Zersenay Tadesse and Kenenisa Bekele, defending his Edinburgh crown for a third successive year.

Elsewhere, Scotland's Lee McConnell has quit the 400 metres hurdles and set her sights on Olympic glory in the flat one-lap event.

The 29-year-old Glasgow athlete abandoned the hurdles on medical advice after struggling with nerve pain in her left leg. Before hurdles, McConnell specialised in the flat 400m and claims she could be an Olympic gold medal contender in 2008. However, she admits it was not an easy decision for herself and coach Roger Harkins.

"It was a traumatic decision for me," said McConnell. "It was difficult for Roger and I even to discuss it, though we'd both reached the same conclusion: that I must stop hurdles."