Denmark benefits from selectors' discretion

Athletics Mike Rowbottom reports from Stakeford, Northumberland
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The Independent Online
Rob Denmark, who finished three positions adrift of automatic qualification at the world cross-country championship trials here yesterday, has been given a discretionary place by Britain's selectors.

The inclusion of the Commonwealth 5,000 metres champion - who finished 10th - rather than the runners who finished in the two places above him, indicates the seriousness of Britain's ambitions for the forthcoming race in Stellenbosch on 23 March.

While the course for the British Cross-Country Championships, set alongside the River Wansbeck, was muddy after overnight rain, the going in South Africa is likely to be firm and flat - far more suitable for a track specialist like Denmark, whose recent training has been affected by illness and injury.

Nick Comerford, who was eighth, is named as travelling reserve. Robert Quinn, who was ninth, is one of two non-travelling reserves. The other discretionary place went to Jon Brown, who had won the Gasparilla 15-kilometre road race in Florida the previous weekend.

"Rob is a class athlete who could be the difference between our team winning or not winning a medal," said Dave Clarke, Britain's men's team manager.

Keith Cullen, the 23-year-old Chelmsford runner, won the men's trial in style as he pulled away from Andrew Pearson in the last of the 12.1km course's eight laps.

The women's race, which the leading Briton, Paula Radcliffe, missed as a precaution after injuring her knee and jarring her back in a race at Luxembourg last weekend, was won by Alison Wyeth, who finished clear of Radcliffe's Bedford club-mate Liz Talbot. Radcliffe and Sonia McGeorge, who went down with a stomach bug in midweek, were given the discretionary places alongside the first four home.

Cullen, a graphic designer with a startling shock of centrally parted hair, worked hard to reverse the positions at last year's European Cross- Country Championships at Alnwick, when Pearson outsprinted him to take bronze.

That is the kind of in-house competition which Clarke hopes will help make an impression against the likes of Kenya, Spain, Ethiopia and Portugal.

Chris Sweeney, who has made a big impression himself over the country this season after a two-year absence with injury, received a suitable gift on his 30th birthday as he earned his first British vest by finishing third.

If Sweeney was a possible rather than a probable qualifier, then Steve Harris, who took the seventh and last automatic place behind Adrian Passey, John Nuttall and Darrius Burrows, was an outsider.

Harris, a 24-year-old Southern Water employee from Worthing, was asked if he would experience any difficulty in getting time off work for the World Championship. "When is it?" he asked.