Athletics: Brown plans to build on Durham test

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JON BROWN is a contradictory man. As an athlete he believes the competitions he engages in are undermined by the doping irregularities he fears some of his competitors indulge in. After finishing third in Saturday's IAAF World Cross Challenge he reiterated his view that until more widespread testing procedures are introduced, his will be a lost generation in terms of creditable times.

At the same time he was clearly satisfied with his own performance and excited by the double target which lies before him of competing in the world championships and the Flora London Marathon.

In his first race since breaking the British 10,000 metres record four months ago, the 27-year-old Sheffield runner did enough to suggest he can make a big impression in the two big early season events.

Brown was denied a hat-trick of wins at Durham by Ethiopia's 19-year- old world junior champion, Milion Wolde, who finished a few strides ahead of Kenya's Thomas Nyariki. But the Briton considered it his best race of the three.

A foot injury sustained in September, when he inadvertently trod on a triangular toy building block belonging to his one-year-old son Dylan, forced Brown to miss the European cross-country championships.

But his run-out at the University Playing Fields, on a course bordered by the River Wear and overlooked by Durham Prison, allowed him to set his own building block firmly in place for the world championships, to be held in Belfast on 27 and 28 March.

Brown, however, is not even considering the prospect of victory in an event which has gone to Kenya for the past eight years. "It is not possible for Europeans to win any more," he said. "I think it may be possible to finish in the top half dozen. That would satisfy me." The Vancouver-based runner spoke out several times last year about the number of rivals he believed were taking illegal advantage of the blood-booster EPO - for which no reliable test yet exists.

However, he believes the overwhelming Kenyan success at cross-country has been achieved in the main by fair means, and these are the runners against whom he measures himself. "I know most of the Kenyans aren't using EPO," he said. "They are the guys I really see as my competition. But the underlying priority is to get better testing in place - if not for me, then for the younger generation. It is the only hope." Brown, fourth in last year's European 5,000m final, was comfortable with the suggestion that, because of persistent doubts over doping abuse, his era of running was effectively a write-off. "More or less," he said. "Lots of people are using stuff they shouldn't and getting away with it. What use is there for me to consider being able to win a major event? I'm surprised more athletes don't make comments like I do."

Brown's decision to compete in Belfast just three weeks before he seeks to improve on last year's eighth place in the London marathon is down to the fact that the world cross-country championships are in the United Kingdom.

"If it was anywhere else, I wouldn't have bothered," he said. "But I may not have another chance to run the world cross in Britain. It is not particularly convenient to do both, but there is no reason why it's not possible."

For Britain's newly-installed European cross-country champion Paula Radcliffe, who finished a distant fourth on Saturday behind Ethiopia's 1996 world cross-country champion, Gete Wami, the pressure of racing in front of a home crowd in three months' time is already building.

Radcliffe, who is still suffering the after-effects of a cold, faded from contention in the final part of the race. "My energy just went in the last lap," she said. "I've got at least another 20 per cent to add. But that's not a bad thing. If I was in top condition now there's a danger I might overcook things in training."

Her plan now is to race in the IAAF Challenge events at Belfast and Tourcoing, France, before spending a month training at altitude in Albuquerque.

John Mayock, the European indoor 3,000m champion, will set off for warm weather training in Australia this week, but his state of mind was less composed than Radcliffe's on Saturday after he took a wrong turn into the finishing straight a lap early while leading from Phillip Tulba.

"The previous time round we had been given the one lap marker," said Mayock, who eventually finished eighth. "As we came down the straight the official opened the gate to the finish area and then said `I'm sorry, I'm sorry, there's one more lap to go'. It was a shambles. Diabolical. I trained really hard for this. I wanted to come and stamp my authority here. I know it was my fault for not counting, but when you are trying to win a race you don't concentrate on things like that."