Athletics: Ireland's farm girl ready for Radcliffe

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The Independent Online
PAULA RADCLIFFE'S televised cross-country victory over Zola Pieterse and Olga Bondarenko last weekend may have created waves within the sport, but the ripples were faint indeed by the time they reached Cornafean in County Cavan.

Catherina McKiernan, one of the few world-class Irish runners not to have thrown in their lot with an American college, did not watch the performance of the 20-year-old English runner who she meets today in Belfast and has no definite plans to see any tape of the race.

'I train at that time on a Saturday, so why change things?' she said. 'I don't really think like that. I'm not the kind of person who goes into a little corner and worries about things. I just go out and run.'

It is an approach which has brought her considerable success since she began in the sport six years ago as an 18-year-old. She was runner-up in the last two world cross-country championships, and earned herself dollars 10,000 ( pounds 6,600) for winning last year's World Cross Challenge series, the International Amateur Athletic Federation event of which last Saturday's race in Beamish, County Durham, forms a part.

Today's course, at the City of Belfast Playing Fields in Mallusk, is one she knows well, having won there in successive years. Last year she bided her time before surging past Radcliffe on the final lap. This year, she says she feels as good, if not better, than she did in 1993. It should be some race.

McKiernan, who works as a receptionist for Cavan County Council, lives on her parents' dairy farm, eight miles from Cavan town. She is surrounded by fields, but chooses not to train on them, preferring the smoother surfaces of the local golf club.

Given the International Amateur Athletic Federation's preference for staging its world championships on placid, television-friendly courses, it is no bad idea. The way things are going, a golf course is not out of the question as a future venue.

The presence of Bondarenko, Russia's 1988 Olympic 10,000 metres champion, Alison Wyeth, who finished fifth - two places ahead of Radcliffe - in last summer's World Championship 3,000m final, Vicky McPherson, the AAA 10,000m champion, and Margaret Kagiri, the 1993 Kenyan 1500m champion, promises a competitive afternoon.

The men's event gives Steve Tunstall, who finished a distant second behind Ethiopia's world 10,000m champion, Haile Gebresilasie, in Durham, the opportunity to match himself against another sublimely gifted African runner, the 18-year-old world 5,000m champion, Ismael Kirui, of Kenya.

He was runner-up at Belfast last year - beaten by his fellow countryman Simon Chemwoyo. Apart from Tunstall, those who will attempt to frustrate him today include another Kenyan, Joseph Keino, Britain's Dave Lewis, Carl Thackery and Rob Denmark; and Hammou Boutayeb, the Moroccan who the Kenyans accused of baulking Richard Chelimo - Kirui's brother - out of the Olympic 10,000m gold medal last year. Clearly there is potential for a further controversy.