Athletics: Brown keeps pace with times

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The Independent Online
Asked to identify his main rivals before Saturday's Bupa County Durham Cross-Country race, Jon Brown replied laconically: "The Africans."

Given the balance of world power in middle-distance running, it was a safe enough statement. But by the end of the afternoon, the 25-year-old Yorkshireman had struck another blow for The Rest as he finished ahead of a field which included Daniel Komen, the outstandingly talented 20- year-old from Kenya.

Brown's strong-minded display on a hilly 9.3km course earned him his third notable victory in the past month. Two weeks ago he became the first British male to win a major cross-country title in 21 years as he took the European Championship in Belgium; a week before that he had beaten the current world cross-country champion, Paul Tergat, in a race in Spain.

That kind of preparation sent Brown into this race with the best chance of producing a British victory since Eamonn Martin won in 1990; but Komen's surging tactics threatened to break up the field before the halfway stage, and with 2,000m remaining only Brown and Hendrick Ramaala, a South African lawyer, remained in touch.

Komen had arrived in the north-east of England after a superlative year on the track. Despite missing the Olympics after finishing only fourth in the Kenyan trials, he set world records at two miles and 3,000m, missed the world 5,000m record by a second, and earned US$250,000 (pounds 150,000) as the overall International Amateur Athletic Federation grand prix champion.

While Komen has invested his earnings in putting down roots - one of 13 children, he has bought a farm which is now being worked by his family - Brown has dedicated his more modest winnings to funding a peripatetic lifestyle. Born in Wales, raised in Yorkshire, educated in the United States, and with training bases in Germany and Canada, he has a clear- sighted world view that contrasts strongly with the parochialism he has identified in some of his British middle- distance colleagues.

His target remains a top six placing in the world cross- country championships in Turin three months hence, although the British 5,000 and 10,000m records must be legitimate targets for him, too, as he goes about his track business in preparation for this year's World Championships in Athens.

Despite Saturday's performance, Brown - who finished 12th, and top European, at the World Cross-country Championships last March - is not getting carried away with his prospects in Turin. He knows that there will be nine top Kenyans and nine top Ethiopians competing in the event.

"I know that there will be three or four guys capable of running 26 minutes 30 seconds for 10 kilometres, and that's not within my ability," he said. "I know what these Kenyan guys do when they get into their training camps."

For all that, he is keeping the British flag flying in an event where success had become a distant memory. Paula Radcliffe, the former world junior cross-country champion, returned to the fray on Saturday after recovering from a knee injury. It was her first competitive appearance since she won the New York road mile in September.

She gave her usual committed performance and was only overhauled in the final 200 metres by the current world cross-country champion, Gete Wami of Ethiopia, and Elana Fidatof of Romania.

"I was surprised I was that fit," said Radcliffe, who can now look forward with growing confidence to Turin.

WORLD CROSS-COUNTRY CHALLENGE (Durham) Second round: Men's 9.3km: 1 J Brown (GB) 28min 24sec; 2 D Komen (Ken) 28:27; 3 H Ramaala (SA) 28:31; 4 Y Millon (Fr) 28:39. Women's 5.2km: 1 G Wami (Eth) 17:32; 2 E Fidatof (Rom) 17:33; 3 P Radcliffe (GB) 17:38; 4 L Elliott (GB) 18:00; 5 M Chirila (Rom) 18:00.

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