Cross-Country: British travel second class

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Seven out of eight world cross-country gold medals - once again - to Kenya. Out of Africa, it seems, always something familiar. There was something familiar, too, about the depressing British performance at the Kimcsen Park racecourse just outside the Hungarian capital.

Britain's only realistic hope of gaining a medal on Saturday, the 1991 world junior champion Paula Radcliffe, was reduced by a foot injury to the role of a spectator. Injury also caused the withdrawal of Andrew Pearson, the top British finisher last year, and Richard Nerurkar, the World Cup marathon champion.

But the performances from those who did make it to the line in one piece was disappointing. The senior men were eighth with Jon Nuttall, who came in 32nd, their best finisher. Britain's senior women finished 15th with no one in the top 40.

'It's crazy,' Bud Baldaro, the team manager, said. 'We keep turning up with our best men missing. We have been riddled with injuries this year. But I think the biggest factor is the commitment of coaches and athletes to actually taking part. If we can't get people out next year when we have the championships on home soil it will be very stupid.

'A lot of athletes are not making cross-country part of their plans. But I don't agree with the idea that you can't mix cross-country and the track. If that were the fact then how do the Kenyans and the Ethiopians do it year after year?'

It has not helped that in recent years British officialdom has regarded cross-country as a country cousin. Financial help is scant, Baldaro - who was told that he had to keep the cost of a pre-championship squad training weekend below pounds 1,000 - describes the response to requests for support as 'tepid'.

Cross-country trials and fixtures have also suffered from being scheduled at the same time as alternative attractions, such as on 19 February, when the national trials at Alnwick coincided with the national indoor AAA championships.

The events of two weeks ago, when the chairman of the Cross-Country Commission, Ken Rickhuss, and its secretary, Matt Frazer, were voted in by the clubs as chairman and secretary respectively of the British Athletic Federation, suggest that a new attitude is likely.

What would help Britain's prospects in Durham, the 1995 venue for the World Championships, would be to bring the trials closer to the main event itself rather than leaving a gap of five weeks, in which many fluctuations of form can occur.

The afternoon was not without encouragement for the future. Fifth place by the junior women, for whom Nicola Slater, the English schools' champion, finished 11th, was more than respectable. Slater, who is young enough to run in two further World Junior Championships, was disappointed rather than satisfied - she had wanted a place in the top 10. A good sign.

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