Athletics: Brown seeking a place among Olympic élite

Paula Radcliffe's plans for this weekend's IAAF World Cross Country Championships may have been hamstrung but the muddy course in Brussels will still be thronged by athletes bearing their own agendas - many of which will culminate in this summer's Olympics.

Paula Radcliffe's plans for this weekend's IAAF World Cross Country Championships may have been hamstrung but the muddy course in Brussels will still be thronged by athletes bearing their own agendas - many of which will culminate in this summer's Olympics.

While the men's long-course race tomorrow looks destined to be won by Ethiopia's risen star Kenenisa Bekele, who is seeking his third successive long and short-course double in these Championships at the scary age of 21, Britain's leading contender, Jon Brown, is likely to be seeking a place in the top 10 as part of his Athens preparations.

The 33-year-old former European cross-country champion - who has joint affiliation to Sheffield AC and the Prairie Inn Harriers, who are based in Victoria, Canada, where he has lived since 1996 - wants to produce a sharp performance in Belgium that will set him up for an efficient outing at next month's Flora London Marathon.

Brown needs to run a time inside 2hr 15min to qualify for the Olympics, where he will seek to emulate his outstanding performance in Sydney four years ago when he finished one place outside the medals.

"It's been 15 months since I've run over the country, but my training for the marathon is pretty much what I would do for cross-country so it shouldn't be a problem. I'm in good shape and it will be interesting to see how it goes."

Brown has not run in the London event since 2001 because of a disagreement over the way he had been treated by the event organisers, but that discord has been harmonised and he will toe the line this year. "I just want to get the marathon over with, get the time I need and hope it doesn't take too much out of me. Then I'll just get ready for Athens."

Brown believes that the British team have a reasonable chance of finishing as the top Europeans at this year's Championships, but he takes a typically realistic view of any prospect of a medal. "Five years ago there was the odd chance that you might get third or something, but that's long gone," he said.

Bekele, who eclipsed his great Ethiopian role model, Haile Gebrselassie, in winning last year's world 10,000m title, will face serious opposition in today's short race from two Kenyans - Abraham Chebii, who outsprinted him over 5,000m at last summer's Rome Golden League meeting, and the 1998 and 2000 world short-course champion, John Kibowen.

In the 12km race tomorrow, Kenya will field the world 5,000m champion, Eliud Kipchoge. Kenya will also field two world champions from 2001 in the longer race - Richard Limo in the 5,000m and Charles Kamathi in the 10,000m.

* The IAAF said yesterday that it is considering a change in eligibility rules to prevent athletes from switching nationality for commercial gain, but will not have a new system in place for this summer's Olympics. The issue has gained prominence since Kenya indicated that it will bar its former national world steeplechase champion Saif Saeed Shaheen from competing for Qatar in the Olympics.

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