Twell out to leave juniors on high note

The 19-year-old is Britain's best hope at the European Cross Country Championships
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The Independent Online

There are still 1,320 days before the Olympic Games come to London, but for British athletes the road to 2012 starts tomorrow in Brussels. The European Cross Country Championships at the Parc de Laeken is the first international competition in the wake of the Beijing Games and the first since the announcement of a regime change at UK Athletics.

Charles van Commenee does not formally take the reins as Britain's head coach until the new year but the Dutchman, working his notice as performance director of the National Olympic Committee of the Netherlands, will be at the side of the course in the Belgian capital running a discerning eye over his future charges.

The biggest hopes for British success will be pinned on the girl who will have a London 2012 badge attached to her vest as a reminder of where her endeavour is destined to lead her. Steph Twell (right) has had the logo stuck to her since before the London bid succeeded in July 2005. She even pins it to her pyjamas at bedtime.

"Every morning that I take it off and put it back on again, when I change my clothes, I know that this is what I'm doing it for," the teenager said. "When I'm training and when it's hurting a little bit, I think, 'This is what I'm doing it for'."

Twell will be nearly 23 by the time the London Olympics come round. At 19, she has already emerged as a distance running force in the Paula Radcliffe mould. In July this year she won the world junior 1500 metres title at Bydgoszcz in Poland. In August she had her Olympic baptism in Beijing, finishing sixth in her 1500m heat in 4 minutes 6.68 seconds and narrowly missing the qualifying cut for the final.

It is a measure of the progress the Aldershot girl has made under the guidance of her coach, Mick Woods, that she has reached Olympic level while still a junior athlete. Radcliffe won the world junior cross-country title as an 18-year-old, in 1992, but was 22 when she first became an Olympian, in Atlanta in 1996. Twell won the senior race at the British trials for the European Cross Country Championships in Liverpool last month but runs in the Under-20 race tomorrow. It will be her farewell to the junior ranks.

It would take a major upset of the form book for her to go out with anything other than the bang of a third successive title in the age group. "It's my last race as a junior, so it's special to me," Twell said. "I'd like to leave the junior ranks on a high."

Mo Farah will also be looking to hit the heights, in the senior men's race. Winner of the title in Italy in 2006, the Somali-born Briton faces seven-time champion Sergiy Lebid of the Ukraine and Mustafa Mohamed, the Somali-born Swedish steeplechaser with whom he has been training in Ethiopia for the past six weeks.