Brown concerned over financial support

Brendan Foster, the former world record-holder, angrily hit out yesterday at the lack of support for British distance runners.

Foster, founder of the Bupa Great North Run, which takes place on Tyneside tomorrow, believes Britain's distance experts are the poor relation of the sport. The former European 10,000 metres champion has pinpointed Jon Brown, a strong contender for victory in the half-marathon from Newcastle to South Shields, as a good bet for a medal in the marathon at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

However, Foster fears Brown could miss out unless he is given the proper financial aid in the few years leading up to the Games. "It makes me angry when I hear Jon talk about the lack of support," Foster said of the Vancouver- based Brown. "The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has said athletics is one of the sports that should be supported, but I hope he just doesn't mean in terms of facilities.

"The Belgians pay their distance runners not to run lots of races. In Jon we have somebody who has a real chance of a medal in Sydney and we should be asking him what support he needs before then. Runners born at altitude have natural advantages, but when I here that the Moroccans and Kenyans also have a better training set-up it make me sad."

Brown admitted that unless he had the proper financial back-up he might be forced to compromise his training before Sydney to compete in other marathons for the appearance fee and prize money.

The reigning European cross-country champion sees tomorrow's race as a pointer to when he makes his debut at the marathon in Chicago next month. "A half-marathon is more in line with a 10km than a marathon, but it will give me an indication as to how my training is going at the moment. What I am looking for is a competitive race that I can enjoy, but I am fairly confident that I can win."

Brown will attempt to become the first British winner of the race, which, with a record 36,000-plus entry, outstrips the London Marathon, since Steve Kenyon in 1985.

Paul Evans, the Belgrave Harrier who like Brown is using the race as part of the build-up to the defence of his Chicago marathon title, is likely to be his main rival.

But both could up be upstaged by the Kenyan Benson Masya, a four-time winner in the past six years who was granted a late entry on Thursday, though his fitness remains in doubt.

In the women's race, Liz McColgan is aiming for a hat-trick of wins and her fourth in all, though she will be up against a top-class field. The Ethiopian World cross-country champion Derartu Tulu leads the challenge, while another Scot, Yvonne Murray, fourth on her debut last year, and Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan, in her first half-marathon, should also be threats.

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