Ahtletics: Farah's triumph caps golden day for UK

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The Independent Online

Mo Farah's collection of silver medals - six, including the one he earned in this summer's European Championships - was supplemented by a gold here yesterday as he became the first British male to win the European Cross Country title in a decade.

The 23-year-old Somali refugee had time to blow kisses and wave as he came into the finishing straight in this northern suburb of Milan before securing a win that promised even greater things for the future. A feeling of British optimism had already been established by the victory of Stephanie Twell in the women's junior race, where sterling performances from her close rivals Emily Pidgeon and Sian Edwards also helped to secure the team title.

With the women's under-23 team securing team gold in what has been introduced as a demonstration event this year, and the senior women earning a silver, it turned out to be that rare thing in recent years for UK Athletics: a day to rejoice.

For Farah, who emerged as a talented runner soon after arriving in Britain from Mogadishu as an 11-year-old, this result put a golden seal on a year of dramatic improvement. After producing the second-fastest 5,000m ever by a Briton - 13min 09.40sec - early in the season, he was beaten to the European title by fractions of a second in Gothenburg. Two weeks ago he won the Dunkirk cross-country against a field which included Micah Kogo, the Kenyan with whom he has been training at their Teddington base and who is the fastest 10,000m runner in the world this year. Before that win, Farah had been training for a month at altitude in South Africa, and on an afternoon of golden sunshine those labours continued to bear golden fruit.

"I've worked really hard for this," he said, his wide grin disclosing teeth so perfect that it surely cannot be long before he enjoys sponsorship from a toothpaste manufacturer. "Winning the race in France gave me a lot of confidence, and I felt good today. I've got a lot of silver medals - I've tried to win gold so many times."

Asked if his growing silver collection had begun to become a bit of a nag to him, he conceded: "It was a bit."

Having earned the additional distinction of breaking the run of five consecutive wins in this event for Ukraine's Sergey Lebed, Farah is now looking forward to 2007, where his plans for spring include differing tests at either end of March - the European Indoor Championships in Birmingham and the World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa. Farah is young enough to be a contender both at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the Games that will be held four years later in his adopted capital, an event upon which the juniors who performed so well here have also set their sights.

The London 2012 Olympics badge glinting on Twell's vest represented a shining ambition. This win represented the biggest step she has taken so far towards the Games she is determined to contest on home soil. And the badge - worn whenever she races, or trains - is a constant symbol of intent. She even pins it to her pyjamas at night.

Twell's father, Andy - an Army Major now based in Cyprus - looked on proudly as she ran what her coach, Mick Woods, described afterwards as "a perfect race". Twell finished 15 metres clear of Norway's Karoline Grovdal and last year's winner and favourite, Ancuta Bobocel of Romania, with Pidgeon, who has missed more than a month's training recently with a heel injury, fourth and Edwards sixth. All three girls had received good-luck e-mails from Paula Radcliffe, who reminded them of how she had won on this course four years ago in the annual Campaccio race.

"I was thinking about Paula's message as I was warming up for the race," said Twell, who recently viewed the site of the London Olympic stadium from the 23rd-floor offices of the 2012 Committee chairman, Seb Coe. "It was incredible to see where I would be competing. My ambition is to do whatever it takes to be on that start line."