Athletics: Tara, the girl who was born to run

Simon Turnbull finds speed is in the blood of a new athletics hope
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The Independent Online
IN HIS days as a flying right-winger, Dick Krzywicki never did get to take on the world. The closest he got was on a blustery April afternoon in Cardiff in 1970, when he put the wind up the World Cup holders. Five minutes before half-time in a Home International match at Ninian Park, Wales' No 7 raced on to a through-ball from Alan Durban and shot past Gordon Banks. It took a late equaliser by Francis Lee to save England.

"Dad tells me about that goal quite often," Tara Krzywicki said, chuckling. "I actually saw it on Sky a couple of months ago. They showed a clip of it." On BBC1 next Saturday they will be showing more than a clip of Dick's daughter. Grandstand will be covering the women's 8km race at the world cross country championships in its entirety. Twenty-nine years after her father's finest hour and a half, Tara will be taking on the world in Belfast.

How she has come to be under the international sporting spotlight as a runner is a story more remarkable than that of the daughter following in the father's footsteps. Two years ago Tara was a non-runner. She was, in fact, following in her father's stud-marks - as a winger, she won six caps for Wales. "Two less than dad, as he keeps reminding me," she pointed out. "I never got to play against England. But I played in the Heysel Stadium - and scored."

Having just turned 25, Tara never saw her father in his playing pomp for Wales, West Bromwich Albion (he bagged a losers' medal for the Baggies in the 1970 League Cup final) and Huddersfield Town. "I never even liked football," she recalled of her teenage days growing up in Last of the Summer Wine country at Kirkburton, eight miles south of Huddersfield. "I used to ride horses and I played a bit of hockey too. It wasn't until I came here that I started getting interested in football."

At Loughborough University, where she now works as a post-graduate student in the physical education and sports science department, Krzywicki (the name comes from Polish grandparents, war refugees, who found their way to Flint) turned to her father's game after being turned down in start- of-term hockey trials. "I was looking around for another sport to do and the football trials just happened to be on," she recalled. "I thought, `Running around, getting muddy. What could be better?' So I went along, had my first game and loved it."

She was still loving it five years and six international appearances later when she was training on a treadmill at the gym across the road from the university campus and Mark Edwards, a shot putter and discus thrower, suggested she joined Charnwood Athletics Club. "I told him I'd tried running before and I hadn't enjoyed it," Krzywicki said. "I'd done the odd cross country race at school and hated it, really hated it. And in my first year at Loughborough I'd gone down to Charnwood once, was stuck in with a group of men and really, really struggled to keep up. Anyway, Mark persuaded me to go back down. I met the women's coach, Roy Stowell. And here we are today."

Krzywicki has come a long way in the 20 months since she first donned a green and yellow Charnwood vest. And such is the talent she has shown, she can go a lot further yet. Last winter she won the Midlands cross country title, finished fourth in the world student cross country championships and was reserve for Britain's world cross country championship team. In the summer she won the women's AAA 10,000m title, took the bronze medal in the 5,000m and was unfortunate to be overlooked for Commonwealth Games selection.

It was clear that the one-time Welsh winger was not going to miss out on the selection stakes for this year's world cross country championships when she emerged an imperious winner from the Reebok challenge race in the grounds of Cardiff Castle in January. And last month she duly secured her place in the British team, finishing runner-up to Angela Mudge in the inter counties' championship race at Wollaton Park, Nottingham. Her aim now is to head the British contingent behind Paula Radcliffe. "Realistically," she said, "unless the rest of the field trip up or get their shoelaces tied together, I'm not going to have a chance of a medal. But in a couple of years there's no reason why I couldn't be challenging - if I keep improving the way I am."

Indeed, if she keeps making such rapid strides she might even overtake the other sporting international in the Krzywicki family. "It's funny," Tara said, thinking of her father, who is 51 now and a coaching development officer with the Professional Footballers' Association. "We've got this bubble picture card of him at home which has a jet-pack on his back. It says, `Dick Krzywicki, one of the fastest forwards in the League', which he always likes to remind me about. He still reckons he can beat me, over 60 metres at least... I'm not so sure."