Athletics: Scorching Sigei

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The Independent Online
THERE is a saying in Hungary, whose history is one long series of invasions: 'When there's nothing to do on a wet weekend, someone, somewhere comes and conquers us.'

Yesterday it was the turn of the Kenyans, who swept all opposition before them in the World Cross-Country Championships here. As last year, Kenya took seven of the eight gold medals on offer, with William Sigei emphasising he is the natural successor to John Ngugi by winning his second successive senior title.

The women's title - the only one Kenya missed in 1993 - was won by Hellen Chepngeno, a 27-year-old mother who works as a corporal in the national prison service. She established an early lead that proved too much for Ireland's Catherina McKiernan to make up, despite a brave sprint over the final 600 metres which lifted her from fourth to second.

McKiernan thus has a third consecutive silver in these championships, each time behind a different winner. Only Mariano Haro, of Spain, has won more silver medals in the event, taking four consecutively between 1972 and 1975.

McKiernan was happy rather than frustrated after overtaking two Portuguese runners, Conceicao Ferreira, who finished third, and the woman who won last year, Albertina Dias.

At 24, McKiernan has plenty of time to try again. The only pity of yesterday's race was that Britain's former world junior champion Paula Radcliffe, 20, who has been in exceptional form, was unable to take part because of a foot injury.

In contrast to last year's hosts in Spain, the Hungarians have no great tradition in cross- country running. Horses, rather than athletes, are commemorated here. Yesterday's venue was a racecourse named after one of the most celebrated Hungarian horses, Kimcsen, whose claim to immortality was an unbeaten run of 10 years.

That is a distinction the Kenyans are fast approaching in the men's event, which they have now won eight times in a row. Ngugi, who provided five victories, is suspended for failing to take a random drug test.

On a tussocky course featuring two artificial hills, straw- bale 'hurdles' and, bizarrely, one log, Sigei's work was done for him by a succession of team- mates who worked like domestiques for a Tour de France top dog.

The lone challenge of Ethiopia's world 10,000 metres champion, Haile Gebresilasie, was eventually overwhelmed by weight of numbers.

Britain performed respectably in the women's junior race, where 11th place for Nicola Slater helped them to fifth overall. But elsewhere it was a dismal story for a squad disrupted by injuries and absences. Jon Nuttall was the top finisher for the men, in 32nd place, while Laura Adam was the best woman, in 45th place.