Athletics: Martin running campaign to get his message across: Trend-setting London Marathon champion prepares to raise cross-country's profile further in County Durham today

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The Independent Online
EAMONN MARTIN will be running for a cause today in the international cross-country race around the Beamish Museum in County Durham. The 1993 London Marathon champion has become an increasingly bold defender of cross- country in the face of what he sees as neglect by the British Athletic Federation.

'They don't consider cross-country very glamorous so no money is pumped into it. Yet they manage to find the funds to send sprinters abroad for six months,' he said.

'They have ignored it for so long that we are in a minor slump. I believe it is time to push the profile up. Distance running in Britain whether it's on the track or in marathons stems from a good cross- country background. You will ignore that at your peril.'

Martin has the opportunity to start profile-raising in earnest in a race which will be shown live on BBC Grandstand. His opponents include German Silva, of Brazil, the Olympic 10,000m finalist, a strong representation of other British talent including Paul Evans, the European Cup 5,000m champion Rob Denmark, Dave Lewis and Andrew Pearson. But the strongest challenge is likely to come from Haile Gebreselassie, of Ethiopia, who won the world 10,000m title last summer after inadvertently removing a shoe from Kenya's defending champion, Moses Tanui, at the bell.

The racing is not likely to be so tight today as Gebreselassie will seek to emulate his fellow countryman, Fita Bayesa, the runaway winner of last year's event. Martin, whose summer season was ruined by the foot injury which forced him to drop out of the European Cup 10,000m, will do well to stay with the Ethiopian. Evans, habitually a brave and commited athlete, could make an interesting race of it.

The women's race in an event which is part of the International Amateur Athletic Federation's World Cross Challenge, has been rescued at the 11th hour by the arrival of Zola Pieterse, formerly Budd, who agreed to participate last Wednesday following the withdrawal of the three-times world cross-country champion, Lynn Jennings. The American, who had to drop out of last year's event at short notice with appendicitis - she required an operation in a Newcastle hospital - has fallen ill again and is not able to run either here or in Belfast next week.

Her projected race against the world 1500m silver medallist, Sonia O'Sullivan, of Ireland, fell apart completely on Thursday when O'Sullivan dropped out with a back injury.

So Pieterse, who made much of the running in last September's Great North Run before finishing third behind Tecla Laroupe, of Ethiopia, will return to the North East and seems likely to run with similar commitment. 'I don't like tactical races,' she said after arriving at Newcastle Airport yesterday. 'I prefer to run them freely.'

Pieterse, who has found races scarce back home in South Africa, will use the Beamish event as preparation for the World Cross-country Championships in Budapest on 26 March, where she will hope that the boldness she displayed in last year's World Championships will be rewarded with more than the fifth place she achieved on that occasion.

In the absence of Liz McColgan, winner at Beamish two years ago, who is back in training after a serious hamstring injury, the British challenge will be headed by Alison Wyeth and Paula Radcliffe, fifth and seventh respectively behind the all-conquering Chinese in the world 3,000m final in Stuttgart.

The presence of Olga Bondarenko, of Russia, the 1988 Olympic 10,000m champion, and Lydia Cheromei, of Kenya, who was third when Radcliffe took the world junior title in 1991, should make this the most competitive race of the afternoon.