Athletics: Farah's talent gives Britain brighter outlook

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The Independent Online

It has been raining all week in San Giorgio su Legnano, the suburb of Milan which hosts the 13th European Cross Country Championships tomorrow, and another half an inch of rain is forecast today. But the prediction for race day is "dry and sunny" - and all at UK Athletics are hoping fervently for a suitably bright finale to what has been another year of severely dampened aspirations.

Having failed to earn a single individual gold medal at this summer's European Championships - though a number of promising youngsters picked up some silver and bronze - Britain's athletes are seeking to improve on that in a muddier European context in which they have earned bags full of booty in previous years.

It is 10 years since a Briton, Jon Brown, won the senior men's event, but in Mo Farah, who missed the European 5,000 metres title by fractions of a second in August, the team has a contender to match Brown.

There have been three wins for Britons in the senior women's event - two from Paula Radcliffe and one, in 2004, from Hayley Yelling, who is in the team this year along with Jo Pavey, the Commonwealth 5,000m silver medallist.

But the race which offers the headiest prospects for Britain is the junior women's, where Emily Pidgeon, who took silver last year, is back near her best after a heel injury and there are two other talented performers in Sian Edwards, 10th in the world cross country junior race this year, and Stephanie Twell, who defeated Pidgeon in the trial at Liverpool two weeks ago.

"I can't remember a time when we had three juniors as outstanding as Pidgeon, Twell and Edwards at the same time," the head coach, Alan Storey, said yesterday.

"Predicting the order they will finish in is virtually impossible. But with all of them running in the same team - am I bothered? We need four in the top 20 to have a chance of a medal, but I think the girls will be disappointed if they didn't match the gold they got last year." If anybody can make the domestic sport feel good about itself again it is Farah, a genial 23-year-old who has taken huge strides this season. Farah has re-dedicated himself to the path he took up after arriving as an 11-year-old Somalian refugee.

Training with a group of world-class Kenyans has shifted him on to a different plane. Two weeks ago he defeated one of his training partners, Micah Kogo, to win at Dunkirk, and as Kogo has run the fastest 10,000m in the world this year Farah will draw confidence from that performance.