ERITREAN asylum seeker Weynay Ghebresilasie has decided to miss today's fourth Start Fitness North-East Harrier League as the newly-crowned Northern junior cross country champion focuses on trying to win the English National Under-20 title on now familiar territory at Sunderland's Herrington Country Park on February 23.
The 18-year-old former soldier's absence will undoubtedly weaken the chances of his adopted club, Sunderland Harriers, at Wrekenton after his eye-catching debut in the increasingly popular six-meeting competition at Jarrow last month.
Ghebresilasie, who carried the Eritrean flag at the London Olympics before competing in the 3000m steeplechase and then walking out of the Olympic Village to seek asylum, was eased back into competition after settling on Wearside and responded by finishing third with the fastest time of the day in the gruelling handicap event to spearhead Sunderland's first senior men's team victory of the season.
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Sunderland, who, until recent seasons, dominated the senior men's championship, just failing to win ten consecutive team titles in 2009, have struggled over the last couple of years and last month's victory - their first of the season - only lifted them to fifth place in the First Division table. Gateshead Harriers head the top division with 11 points, two ahead of arch-rivals Morpeth Harriers, with South Shields in third place.
The region's newest club, Tyne Bridge Harriers, founded two years ago, top the women's table, while their men's team are unbeaten in Division Two after winning all their fixtures last season to climb out of Division Three.
The meeting on the former North-East Championships course at Wrekenton starts at 12,30pm, with the men's race scheduled for 1.15. Record fields have been recorded in each of the three previous meetings, at Cramlington, Blaydon and Jarrow, with a total of over 3,000 competitors taking part, and another large turn-out is expected this afternoon.