Athletics: Restoration of British tradition requires an injection of faith: National federation ponders approach to cross-country running after world championship disappointments. Mike Rowbottom reports

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The Independent Online
AT THE end of a world cross-country championship, in which Kenya were more dominant than ever, the national coach, Mike Kosgei, was asked the obvious question. What's the secret? 'First of all,' he said, 'you have to have faith.'

That faith was manifest in Kenya's performance as they took all individual titles apart from the women's senior, and all four team titles. It was a familiar scenario at the course in Amorebieta, near Bilbao, and less than gripping - Kenyans moving straight to the front, Kenyans staying there. And the failure of any European, let alone British, runner to make the top 12 in the men's race points to a lack of that which sustains Kosgei's athletes.

British officials are considering how to engender such faith. 'We have got a long tradition in cross- country but we are having a little bit of a hard time of it at the moment,' said Ian Stewart, the recently appointed head of promotions for cross-country and road racing within Britain. 'We need to give our runners more international competition.'

The structure of British cross- country running for next season is to be reassessed at a British Athletics Federation cross-country and road running commission meeting this Sunday. One of the proposals is to switch the venue of the UK national trials for the next two years to the flat course at Maiden Castle in Durham, which is similar to the Budapest course chosen to host the 1994 world championships and which will itself host the championships the following year.

The European Athletic Association is proposing to hold the inaugural European cross-country championships in December of next year, probably at Alnwick in England.

'We have got to compete at world level,' said Alan Warner, head of delegation to the British team in Spain, 'I believe the only way is to provide some stepping stones to build confidence instead or repeatedly getting destroyed. I think the European event is a big step forward.'

A similar initiative gets underway on Saturday - the first of three Northumberland Castle Road Races involving international teams. No Kenyans have been invited.

Assessing a championship in which the best Britons were Liz McColgan and Paula Radcliffe, respectively fifth and 18th in the women's race, Brendan Foster, the former Olympic 10,000 metres bronze medallist expressed the frustration of a fierce competitor. 'The Kenyans are good, but they are not superhuman,' he said. 'Unless you get in amongst them you will get nowhere. There's no reason why the British shouldn't be good enough. Are they hungry enough? Do they care enough? I don't know. The answer lies with them. Thank God for Liz and Paula. They really had a go, and I don't see why the men can't do the same.'

McColgan's performance gives promise of a high quality debut in the London Marathon next month. The world 10,000m champion had made concessions in her training to prepare for the championships. She hoped for a medal, and her initial reaction to the run was one of disappointment.

She admitted that the speed of the race at the start took her by surprise, with Zola Pieterse, a winner of the event for Britain in 1985 and 1986, setting the pace as of old. But she will be able to draw satisfaction from the way she moved steadily through from around 30th position to finish just one place behind Pieterse in fifth. Passing Elana Meyer virtually on the line did not displease her either.

The performance of the British men was not entirely without hope. Eamonn Martin's 34th place was satisfactory given that he is also in training for the London Marathon. And Andrew Pearson did well to finish as the top British runner in 32nd.

John Ngugi, the five-times world cross-country champion, faces a drugs investigation on 7 April, Kenya's team manager, Sam Suero, said yesterday. Ngugi has to explain to the Kenyan association why he refused to co-operate with IAAF drugs testers who visited him last month.

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