Athletics: McColgan fit as a favourite

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THE world champion who will attempt to add a world half-marathon title tomorrow to the 10,000 metres gold medal she won last year should not, she wants it to be known, be mistaken for the sorry figure who finished fifth in this year's Olympic 10,000m.

As she prepared for the inaugural International Amateur Athletic Federation world half-marathon championships, which are being staged in conjunction with the Great North Run, Liz McColgan appeared a very different figure yesterday, and that was down to far more than her bushy new perm.

Medical tests after her Barcelona run indicated anaemia and a viral infection which she initially picked up, she feels, in overstretching herself before the world cross-country championships early this year.

'I knew well beforehand, before the heats, that I was not going to win. Anyone there who knew me well would have known. There is no way I'd speak to people on the line. Knowing how I felt, it was either go for it or not, and see how bad you feel. Unfortunately I felt pretty bad.

'My problem is I'm from the old stable of athletes. I've no medical back-up in Dundee. And I didn't want to have to go down to London all the time for medical screening.'

Thus, by the time this runner from the old stable got round to seeing Dr Ken Kingsbury in London after the Olympics, the horse had bolted.

McColgan accepts the blame for that, although she insists that her defeats in the world cross- country and on the grand prix circuit came about because she was fundamentally not well, rather than because she was overdoing it.

But her husband and coach, Peter, speaks - well, wearily - about how he has spent the summer counselling his wife to give herself a break. She has now reduced her weekly mileage from 120 miles to 100 miles. This, apparently, is a big deal.

Certainly her performances since Barcelona have been perky. She won the Glasgow half-marathon in 70min 29sec, and two weeks ago set the world's fastest 1992 time over 10 miles - 52min 14sec - in winning at Erewash.

After yesterday's withdrawal of the local favourite, Jill Hunter, with tendinitis, Britain's hopes of team rewards have fallen, but McColgan - if she is as full of energy as she now maintains - should beat a field which includes Wanda Panfil, winner of the 1990 London Marathon.

The men's field includes the Kenyans, the world 10,000m champion Moses Tanui and last year's winner, Benson Masya; Paul Evans and Steve Brace of Britain; the brothers Naali from Tanzania, Simon Robert and Thomas; Francesco Panetta of Italy; Mark Plaatjes, the South African now running for the United States, and, perhaps, one of his former compatriots.

Mathews Temane, who holds the world best for the distance of 60min 11sec, albeit on a course that dropped 45 metres, has been unable to gain a place in the first South African team to compete in the sport since the country returned to the international sporting fold, and will run as an individual.

Masya, who surprised most people last year, looks capable of winning again. Last time round he prepared for his run on Tyneside by winning the 10km race at Swansea Bay in a record 28min 49sec. Last week he lowered that record to 28:13, and he is thinking in terms of breaking the hour barrier tomorrow.

The British men's team of Evans, Brace, Dave Lewis, Carl Thackery and Mark Flint has an outside chance.

Evans was not exactly Joe Blow at the start of the year, but as a footballer turned runner he has made huge strides in the last six months, placing fifth in the London Marathon and finishing 10th in the Olympic 10,000m final, having made the team for Barcelona with an 11th-hour qualifying time at Tooting Bec. He regards the half-marathon as his best distance; if he has any energy left in his legs it could yet be a rewarding one for him.

The Great North Run's usual television coverage on BBC is now being extended to 38 countries, but the benefits of incorporation are mutual. The mass participation aspect ensures a level of interest in what is a new event; and while the winners of the men's and women's events earn only gold medals as world champions, they will pick up dollars 20,000 and dollars 10,000 respectively as winners of the overall event. Tyneside could prove an enduringly popular venue if the IAAF initiative is maintained.