Athletics: Tale of the expected as Tergat takes fifth title

THE TEE-SHIRTS had been printed up in anticipation of yesterday's achievement here. "Paul Tergat - a new record!" they proclaimed. The Kenyan did not let his Italian kit sponsors down as he duly became the first man to win five consecutive World Cross-Country titles.

In driving wind and rain, Tergat equalled the total of wins achieved by his illustrious compatriot, John Ngugi, and led Kenya to their 14th consecutive team gold in the men's long course race. Overall, Kenya took six of the 12 gold medals on offer here, and Ethiopia five.

Paula Radcliffe's bronze in Saturday's women's long course event provided Britain with something tangible from the 27th running of these championships, and Jon Brown's eighth place yesterday was the best British individual male performance since Tim Hutchings won silver at Stavanger 10 years ago.

Paolo Guerra, of Portugal, also had reasons to be cheerful as he became the first male European individual medallist since Hutchings. He finished third - blowing kisses - behind Tergat and his younger Kenyan team-mate Patrick Ivuti.

It was, however, Tergat's day. "This was the toughest win yet, but the best," he said. "I am so pleased to win because I really didn't expect it this time, especially when I saw the conditions." A corporal in the Kenyan Air Force, Tergat - a 29-year-old father of two - divides his time between his home country and a training base in northern Italy. He also runs an import-export business and a magazine devoted to Kenyan athletics. There should not be too much of a problem deciding what to put on the next front cover.

The muddy conditions suited both Guerra and Brown, who finished in 40min 09sec, a step behind Belgium's naturalised Moroccan Mohammed Mourhit, after negotiating a convoluted 12km course whose steep hills and cambers caused several runners to fall or slide into the fencing throughout the day.

"It was a great course," said Brown, who had prepared for this event by training at altitude in Albuquerque. "This is what cross country is all about. But the top guys still came out on top. I didn't feel I was absolutely on top of my game today. It wasn't a fantastic run - but it was a good one." Behind him, Keith Cullen finished 34th, Glynn Tromans 52nd and Andrew Pearson 65th to give the British team eighth place.

Radcliffe was resigned after her failure to improve upon the silver medal she had won in the previous two World CrossCountry Championships. Despite covering the lead from the start, she was unable to respond to a last- lap break by Ethiopia's Gete Wami, the winner in 1996, and was outsprinted close to the line by Wami's team-mate Merima Denboba.

"I'm disappointed," Radcliffe said. "But I ran as hard as I could and I couldn't have done anything differently so I can't complain." It was yet another honourable defeat for Radcliffe - but she vowed afterwards that she would keep coming back to the event until she won it.

"It's not going to beat me," she said.

Britain's adopted Ethiopian, Birhan Dagne, who sought political asylum after competing in these championships at Durham four years ago, finished 61st in the women's long race.

Yesterday it emerged that two other Ethiopians had taken similar steps, deserting their team soon after it flew into London on Wednesday. The whereabouts of Gremew Hailu and Yit Barek Eshetu are still unknown. A third Ethiopian athlete, Abayneh Abate, also went missing in London but rejoined the team at short notice yesterday, finishing fourth in the junior men's race.