Athletics: Komen has weight of history behind his challenge

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The nationalities of the past five winners of the County Durham International Cross-Country reflect the balance of power in middle-distance running.

Since 1991, when the Durham event became part of the World Cross Challenge, the International Amateur Athletic Federation's integrated cross-country series, the men first past the post have been: Kenyan, Ethiopian, Ethiopian, Kenyan, and Ethiopian. It is going to take something unusual to prevent another Kenyan adding himself to that sequence today. At 20 years of age, Daniel Komen arrived in the freezing environs of Durham yesterday as the coming man in middle-distance running.

Despite missing the Olympics after finishing only fourth in Kenya's high- altitude Olympic trials, the former world junior 5,000 and 10,000m world champion put together a staggering sequence of races in the latter part of the summer season: he clocked the third-fastest 5,000m in history, a Commonwealth record of 12min 51.60sec; set a world two-miles best of 8min 02.54sec; and, on 1 September, eclipsed Noureddine Morceli's 3,000m world record of 7min 25.11sec with 7.20.67.

Komen's compatriot Ismail Kirui, a former 5,000m world champion, has pulled out of the event, but Komen arrived safely yesterday after spending one and a half days travelling from Nairobi.

"I promised I would run and I don't want to let anyone down," Komen said. "I'm hoping to win but I know that Jon Brown is in good form."

The aforementioned Brit, who two weeks ago won the European cross-country title in Belgian mud, faces a far harder task today in both senses of the word. But he is the best-placed to emulate the last British winner, Eamonn Martin (1990).

Brown, who insisted this week that his target is a top-six placing in the world cross-country championship in Turin three months hence, was cautious in his forecast. "I want to do well and it would be nice to win it," he said from his Dusseldorf training base. "But I don't want to expend energy unnecessarily or use up too much mental energy."

Paul Evans, this year's Chicago Marathon winner, and Andrew Pearson, the runner-up in Durham last year, will add to the British challenge against a field which includes Kenya's Christopher Kelong and last year's winner, Assefa Mezgebu.

The women's race has Britain's Paul Radcliffe, the Olympic 5,000m finalist, making her first major appearance since recovering from a knee injury. Radcliffe, the winner at Durham in 1993 and last year, faces opposition from the world cross-country champion Getenesh Wami - an Ethiopian, naturally.