Athletics: Wami's waltz to double

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The Independent Online
THERE was a Wami double as well as a double whammy for Ethiopia in the Bupa Great North Cross Country meeting yesterday. The Durham University playing fields were temporarily transformed into a little corner of East African domination as Gete Wami and Milion Wolde emerged victorious and imperious from the two IAAF world cross challenge races on the programme.

As a first-foot exercise in the year the world cross-country championships come to Belfast in March, it was not an auspicious spectacle to behold from a domestic viewpoint. But at least the leading home lights in the showpiece event, Paula Radcliffe and Jon Brown, did not suffer the fate that befell the unfortunate John Mayock in the middle-distance race. The European indoor 3,000m champion was misdirected into the finish straight with a lap still remaining and sprinted for a victory that never was.

For Wami, the Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist, it was a second successful outing at Durham, having completed the first half of her double in 1996. She followed that victory by winning the world cross-country title in Cape Town and the consummate ease with which she overcame her rivals yesterday suggested she will be in contention again in Northern Ireland two months hence. The 24-year-old made her move approaching the last of five laps and pulled clear to win the 6.5km race by a margin of 13 seconds from Jackline Maranga, the Commonwealth 1,500m champion from Kenya.

Radcliffe finished a further 14 seconds adrift in fourth place, behind Annemari Sandell, the Finn she beat to win the European cross-country title in Ferrara last month. "At least it was better than 12 months ago," the Bedford athlete said. Radcliffe failed to finish last year but two months later was runner-up to Sonia O'Sullivan in the world championship race in Marrakesh. Having suffered from a cold since before Christmas, defeat yesterday was not unexpected. "To be honest, I thought I'd be struggling earlier in the race," Radcliffe said. "I just couldn't breathe on that last lap."

Brown was near-breathless by the end of the men's 9km race but maintained his challenge until the final 400m. It was at that point that Wolde unleashed the speed he has honed as a training partner of Haile Gebrselassie. The 19-year-old has already broken 13 minutes for 5,000m and his prodigious talent was glaringly evident as he sprinted clear of Brown and the world championship 5,000m bronze medallist Tom Nyariki to win by two seconds. Having decided to join Gebrselassie on the indoor circuit this winter, Wolde will be one less African for Brown to worry about in Northern Ireland.

Not that Brown, the Durham winner in 1997 and 1998, was bubbling about his Belfast chances after finishing behind Wolde and Nyariki yesterday. The world cross-country men's race has been monopolised by Kenyans, Ethiopians and Moroccans for 13 years and Brown dismissed the prospect of a first European victory since Carlos Lopes won on his home soil in Lisbon in 1985. "That's just not possible," the Yorkshireman said. "The top half-dozen is possible for a European."

Happiness was not the best adjective to describe Mayock's mood after the farcical 3km middle-distance race. He launched into a sprint finish when he and Philip Tulba of Basingstoke took a wrong turn with a lap of the course still to go. Mayock backtracked when he realised the error and moved through more than half of the field to finish seventh, 11sec behind the winner, Spencer Bardon. The Barnsley man was not amused afterwards.

"It was diabolical," he said. "I know I should have been counting the laps but I was racing to win. When a steward opened a tape and ushered us towards the finish straight I just went for it. The guy said, "I'm sorry" but it was too late. I should have won by half a lap. If we ran the race again now I know I would win. They should have got my wife to count the laps. She can count up to three and a half."

It was the organisers who were left counting the cost, one of whom just happens to be Peter Elliott, Mayock's coaching adviser.