Athletics: Denmark determined to gain rightful recognition: Britain's best 5,000 metres runner has suffered limited publicity for his achievements because of Steve Cram's aura of success. Mike Rowbottom reports

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The Independent Online
EARLIER this month at the Seville grand prix meeting a British athlete overcame a 5,000 metres field that included the Kenyan world champion, Yobes Ondieki, to win in 13min 16.48sec, which put him top of the season's world rankings.

The early flourish in Spain was merely the latest in a series of achievements by Rob Denmark. Since taking up the 5,000m three years ago, he has run 13:10.24, the fourth-fastest time by a Briton, finished ninth in the World Championships, and seventh in the Olympics.

The accomplishments speak for themselves, you might think. Not so, according to the man himself. 'I don't think they do because no one else wants to speak about them,' Denmark said. There is at least as much resignation as aggravation in his tone, but the hurt is there right enough.

The cause of a large part of it is easily summarised: Steve Cram. But wait, wait. It is not Cram himself, it is the reaction to him by the media and, on occasions, the athletics establishment, which has given this Basildon boy reasons not to be cheerful.

While Denmark's world-class performance raised hardly a squeak of acclaim, Cram's victory over 3,000m at Portsmouth on the same weekend - in a slowish time of 7min 54.22sec - made a splash.

'Without wishing to sound conceited, I can do that time with my eyes closed,' Denmark said. 'I don't want to kick a man when he is down, but Steve Cram has failed at his new distance so far.

'I genuinely do hope he succeeds, because I get on well with him as a person. But I feel that the public is being fooled at the moment.

'And when I read that Steve is going to win a medal at this year's World Championships (Frank Dick, the national director of coaching, was the authority quoted) then I find it a little bit insulting. It's as if everything I have done is being ignored.

'Quite a few people have turned round to me and said, 'You must be really sick about this.' But I am not getting bitter about it. I've just got to believe in myself and do what I want to do. That is the attitude I'll adopt for the rest of my career.'

At 24 Denmark feels he has served his apprenticeship. He has raced with the best. And he did not need the victory of Germany's Dieter Baumann in last year's Olympic final - in which, despite his highly respectable performance, he disappointed himself - to convince him that Kenyans can be beaten.

This season he aspires to a medal in the World Championships. He has the courage and the finishing speed to be in with a genuine chance. But many in the British camp - Frank Dick among them - have looked forward with relish to what he might do in next year's European Championships, Baumann or no Baumann.

'I'd be a liar if I said I hadn't thought about it,' he said. 'You have to see yourself with more of a chance to win there than at the worlds.'

Denmark has more pressing demands to concern himself with, however. Today he races in Belfast over a mile against a field which includes the world record holder - Steve Cram. That might make for a piquant occasion, but as far as Denmark is concerned, the event is simply a means of getting the legs working fast before his appearance the weekend after next as Britain's 5,000m representative in the European Cup final.

For all the hype over Cram, the man himself has not made extravagant claims about his capabilities over 5,000m, freely admitting that he is a novice at the event. After his defeat by Jon Brown at the British Championships last Sunday, both runners readily accepted that Denmark was the man for the job. Cram even pointed out - a touch bleakly - there was not any counter-argument about selecting a man who could finish fast, because Denmark could do that as well.

Thus Denmark will return to Rome, where he ran his fastest time last year, with unequivocal support from the British establishment. 'It will be good for me,' he said. 'Sometimes it's nice to be high profile . . .'

(Photograph omitted)