Athletics: Absentees provide golden opportunity for Britons

The Britons running in tomorrow's European Cross-Country Championships in Lisbon may not think it is worth competing. Last year's team still have not received their medals. Simon Turnbull reports.

It was in Lisbon three years ago that Diane Modahl underwent the fateful test that led to her initial suspension and the costly court case which ultimately contributed towards the financial collapse of the British Athletic Federation. The positive sample of concern to British team officials on this occasion, however, is the one Iulia Negura of Romania gave at last year's European cross-country event in Charleroi.

Negura's disqualification after winning the women's race in Belgium led to Romania's exclusion from the team result and Britain's elevation from third to second place. The British team, however, are still waiting to receive their silver medals.

"They didn't even get the bronze medals in the first place," Dave Clarke, the Great Britain team manager, said. "It's the first thing we want to sort out. The girls earned those medals and they deserve to have them."

The three British team counters of 12 months ago - Hayley Haining, Andrea Whitcombe and Suzanne Rigg - are all absentees this time. So is Paula Radcliffe. With the World Cross-Country Championship silver medallist contesting the Waikiki road mile in Honolulu today, Vikki McPherson will lead the British challenge in the women's race.

The leading light of British men's cross-country will also be missing. Still recovering from his marathon debut in Chicago two months ago, Jon Brown has decided to concentrate on preparing for the County Durham international event on January 3 rather than defend his title in Lisbon.

Injury has deprived the host nation of Paulo Guerra, the winner in 1994 and 1995 and runner-up to Brown last year, so a first-time champion is guaranteed.

The leading candidates include Martin Fiz, the Spaniard who has won both gold and silver World Championship marathon medals, and Mustapha Essaid, the naturalized Frenchman who finished third in Charleroi.

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