Athletics: Denmark tracks Kirui to the line: British runner rediscovers form and determination in Granite City road race

SUNSHINE, as forecast, warmed the grey granite of Aberdeen's city centre yesterday. And the sequence of Bupa international races run up and down Union Street received additional, more unexpected illumination through a performance by Rob Denmark which promised bright things for British middle distance running this season.

Denmark finished just three strides behind the world 5,000 metres champion, Ismael Kirui, in the men's 5km event, where both men were given the rounded up time of 13min 37sec. But it was the race, rather than the bare result, which gave cause for satisfaction as far as the British runner was concerned.

After his experience at the World Championships in Stuttgart last summer, when he finished an exhausted ninth behind Kirui, Denmark was temporarily demoralised. So much for the hopes which had been raised by his stylish victory in the European Cup two months earlier. 'For the first couple of weeks after I got back I went out and got drunk,' he said. 'I just couldn't believe the decline in my form.'

Yesterday, in what was his first proper race in three months, he demonstrated that his form - and determination - had returned. After Kirui had established a 15-metre lead at half-way, Denmark, running fluently, got himself back to the Kenyan's shoulder with 800m remaining.

In the final, uphill sprint, it was Kirui who had most in reserve. But at this early stage of the season, Denmark is exactly where he wants to be. 'It showed that, regardless of what some people think, I have got what it takes,' he said. 'On the longer distance training I am doing at the moment that performance was very unexpected. I didn't think I'd take him on like that, and I'm very proud of myself.'

As Kirui hauled his tracksuit top back on, someone asked him if he had been worried when Denmark had come back on to his shoulder. 'Of course not,' he replied dismissively.

But the man who manages both Kirui and Denmark, John Bicourt, had a different opinion. 'Rob ran him right to the edge,' he said. 'At the finish, Ismael was rolling. It was a brilliant run.'

Bicourt believes Denmark can follow the example of Germany's Dieter Baumann, who tracked and then outsprinted his African rivals to take the 1992 Olympic 5,000m title.

Denmark is inclined to be more cautious as he sets out in pursuit of the European 5,000m title and a medal of some kind at the Commonwealth Games, at anything between 1,500 and 10,000m.

One fixture which does not appear to figure in his plans this year, however, is next month's European Cup. 'The European Cup win last season gave me a lot of profile and confidence,' he said. 'But ultimately I think it was my downfall. The expectations of me afterwards were too great.'

Sonia O'Sullivan, of Ireland, who came into the women's 5km field on Thursday after Liz McColgan dropped out with an injured foot, proved too strong for the defending champion, Yvonne Murray.

The world 1500m silver medallist, who looks capable of dominating all but the Chinese once again this year, outsprinted the Scottish runner over the last 200m to win in 15min 18sec.

Unlike last year, Steve Cram managed to finish the men's invitation mile, professing himself satisfied with fourth place behind the winner, Kevin McKay. Matthew Yates, who earlier in the week suggested that Cram ought to consider retiring rather than spoiling the memory of his past achievements, was absent with a stomach complaint.

'Matthew should be thankful he is not running against the Steve Cram of the past,' Cram said. 'If he was, he wouldn't win very much, would he?'

Jackie Joyner-Kersee achieved the second best long jump ever at the New York Games yesterday, leaping 7.49 metres (24ft 7in), four centimetres beyond her 1987 US record. Galina Chistyakova of Russia set the world record of 7.52m in 1988.

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