Brown has world view

Simon Turnbull meets a British runner hot on the trail of European glory
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The Independent Online
Tucked at the bottom of page 44 in the latest edition of Athletics Weekly is a solitary paragraph recording Jon Brown's victory in the Llodio cross-country race near Bilbao last weekend. Even the Peterborough Frostbite League, on page 51, rates a bigger show. British athletics, it seems, cannot recognise a good thing when it comes along. Brown did, after all, leave Paul Tergat 15 seconds behind him.

Tergat is the Kenyan who ran away with the world cross-country title at Durham last year and at Stellenbosch, in South Africa, in March, and who very nearly ground Haile Gebrselassie into submission in that epic 10,000 metres final in Atlanta.

Brown declined to accept the proferred description of "breakthrough" when assessing his Spanish success and looking forward to the European cross-country championships, which take place in the Belgian town of Charleroi today. But he could not fail to acknowledge the significance of his win, in psychological terms at least.

On the day he left for the Basque country, the Yorkshireman reflected on the relative success of 12th place in this year's world cross-country championships and 10th in the Olympic 10,000m final: "You're never going to beat the best of these African guys."

Brown was the first non-African in the world cross-country championships and the second in that Atlanta final. So how did he evaluate his apparent giant stride for European distance running.

"Well," he said, "Tergat will certainly be in better shape for the world cross-country championships in March. But so will I. He's not running like a dog at the moment. But when the Kenyans go off to their camps they come back different animals. They train so hard together, the best guys in the world all in one group.

"Obviously it shows the Europeans, if they work really hard and believe in themselves, can get amongst them. It is very intimidating, especially in the world cross-country championships. You're just buried behind this mass of Kenyan bodies. There are nine of them in the world cross-country. To get in the top 10 doesn't sound much to people but it's a great achievement."

It is, in fact, an achievement that has proved beyond British runners since 1989, when Tim Hutchings was runner-up to the five-times Kenyan winner John Ngugi in Stavanger, Norway. Brown, clearly, is capable of ending that depressing run in Turin in March. He could, indeed, lead home the field in Charleroi today for what would be the first victory by a British man in a major cross-country event since Ian Stewart won the international championship, forerunner of the world championship race, in Rabat 21 years ago. But Brown stressed: "This is just a stepping stone to the world cross- country championships. That's when I'll be in my best shape."

At 25, and with an impressive road running pedigree, Brown's long-term sights are on the Olympic marathon in Sydney. As a native of Sheffield and a prodigy of George Gandy, Loughborough University's athletics guru, he will aim for his golden shot under the Union Jack banner. But uprooting from Britain, it seems, has been the making of this particular Jon Brown.

A graduate of Iowa State University, he lives at Coquetlam, near Vancouver, with his German wife Martina. "I'm definitely British," he said, "but you've got to go where it's best for you." That, if you happen to be an international distance runner, is certainly not Britain, the country that could not afford to send its reserve runners across the Channel to Charleroi.