Athletics: Farah blown off course by Lebid

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The Independent Online

Not so much Farah from the madding crowd as gone with the wind. The easy part for Mo Farah at Holyrood Park yesterday was getting ahead of the massed field in the four-kilometre short-course race in the Event Scotland Great Edinburgh Cross Country meeting. The difficulty was staying there, with a gale blowing his slender frame back towards his principal rival.

Ultimately, both the wind and Sergiy Lebid proved too strong for Britain's male athlete of the year. Farah, the European Championship 5,000m silver medallist and newly crowned European cross country champion, hit the front at the half-way stage but could never get decisively clear of his muscular Ukrainian pursuer. Approaching the turn into the finishing stretch, Lebid shot in front and the young Briton was powerless to respond.

For Lebid, who won by a second in 12min 20sec, it was sweet revenge - his five-year reign as European champion having been ended by Farah's success in the suburbs of Milan a month ago. For Farah, it was one to put down to experience at the start of a busy new year racing schedule that features the European Indoor Championships in Birmingham and the World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, both in March.

Given the dreadful conditions, it was also a reason for the 23-year-old adopted Londoner - a one-time Somali refugee - to savour the prospect of a three-and-a-half-week warm weather training trip to South Africa. "The conditions were unbelievable," Farah said. "It made it very, very difficult. I just couldn't get away from Lebid."

At least Farah did not have long to linger in his disappointment, making a swift departure to catch a 4.30pm flight to Heathrow and an 8pm connection to Johannesburg. He returns from a British team training camp at Potchefstroom to the shelter of the English Institute of Sport indoor track in Sheffield for the Norwich Union European Indoor Trials on 10 February.

Though the 3,000m at the European indoors holds greater promise of success for Farah, he insists that the world cross country is his main winter target. The competition in Mombasa will be considerably fiercer than it will be in Birmingham, though not quite as frightening as it might have been.

Even the conditions yesterday were unable to halt the undisputed king of cross country in the main long-course race. Kenenisa Bekele might have had the wind to contend with but the young Ethiopian can run like it. Midway through the 9.3km event, he breezed away from his rivals, finishing 10 seconds clear of the Eritrean Zersenay Tadesse and 47seconds ahead of Eliud Kipchoge, the 2003 world 5,000m champion from Kenya.

With his seemingly effortless smooth-striding style and his flapping knee-length beach shorts (he had left his running shorts at home in Addis Ababa), Bekele looked for all the world as though he was out on a weekend trot across the South Downs with Ed Warner, the new chairman of UK Athletics, and the rest of the Fittleworth Flyers. The very fact that he can beat the best of the rest in the world with such ridiculous ease is the reason why the world and Olympic 10,000m champion will not be seeking another world cross country crown in Mombasa.

At 24, already a five times winner of the long and short-course world cross country double, Bekele reflected: "If I win again, it is nothing special. It is not a challenge any more."

If he decides to make it a challenge next year, when the World Cross Country Championships come to Holyrood, it will take something extra special to stop King Kenny. A hurricane might stand a better chance than a gale.

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