Antrim International Cross Country: Fionnuala McCormack earns third spot

Antrim International Cross Country: Athletes battle through mud

Fionnuala McCormack was the only non African native to earn a podium spot at the Antrim International Cross Country as she took third in the women's race.

The Irishwoman avenged a couple of recent defeats by Britain's Kate Avery but finished behind Kenyan Alice Aprop Nawowuna and Mimi Belete of Bahrain.

Nawowuna beat Ethiopian-born Belete by four seconds with McCormack a further four seconds back and Avery in fourth.

Aweke Ayalew of Bahrain won the men's race ahead of Uganda's Thomas Ayeko.

Ayeko won last year's men's event at the Northern Ireland meeting but was edged out by Ethiopian-born Ayalew in a sprint finish in Saturday's race with Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot completing the podium places.

Ayalew and Ayeko both clocked 21 minutes and 25 seconds with Cheruiyot a further two seconds back as African-born athletes occupied the first five places.

Scotland's Andrew Butchart was one minute and nine seconds off the pace in sixth spot with Dublin athlete Cillian Mooney the leading Irish athlete in 16th, just ahead of City of Derry's Declan Reed in 17th.

Aweke Ayalew was the men's winner at Greenmount College
Ethiopian-born Bahraini athlete Aweke Ayalew won the men's race in Antrim

McCormack, 31, insisted that she had enjoyed the biting cold and muddy underfoot conditions in the 5.8 kilometre event at Greenmount College.

The Irishwoman led the African contingent early on before Nawowuna and Belete edged clear on the final circuit.

"I think the Africans thought they could get around the mud but realised they couldn't," said McCormack, who won the Antrim event in 2012 and 2013.

"That's how I ended up at the front because I just went through it."

The Kilcoole athlete couldn't hang on to the lead with Nawowuna, 21, an impressive victor in 18 minutes and five seconds despite not feeling comfortable in the cold conditions.

However, McCormack had the consolation of avenging her defeat by Avery in Edinburgh last weekend while the Briton also won silver at the recent European Championships in Hyeres ahead of the fourth-placed Irishwoman.

"It would have been nice to have a bit of a kick at the end because you could see people struggling in front," added McCormack.

"But a course like that when someone gets a gap even though you can see them struggling, you're struggling yourself to get through the mud."

Olympic Games-qualified Kerry O'Flaherty was the first Northern Ireland finisher in 11th, as she came in one minutes and 45 seconds off the pace.