Athletics: Johnson waits to tackle Radcliffe

Benita Johnson, who took the world cross-country gold in Paula Radcliffe's absence last year, will seek to prove in Edinburgh today that she has the ability to defend her title, even if the Briton decides to return to the event.

Benita Johnson, who took the world cross-country gold in Paula Radcliffe's absence last year, will seek to prove in Edinburgh today that she has the ability to defend her title, even if the Briton decides to return to the event.

Radcliffe, who announced earlier this week that she would seek a third Flora London Marathon title on 17 April, has not ruled out going after a third world cross-country win four weeks before that, when the Championships take place in St Etienne. In the meantime, the 25-year-old Australian is keen to stake her claim as a contender by producing a winning performance in the Great Edinburgh Cross-Country race in Holyrood Park today.

"Of my races before I go home next month, this is the one I really want to win," Johnson said yesterday. "It's a really top class field, nearly as good as the Worlds were. But I believe I can beat them. I would have liked Paula to be here, but I'm sure she's training hard getting ready for her own races. I'm sure I will come up against her."

Johnson's main British opposition will come from the woman who succeeded Radcliffe to the European cross-country title last month, Hayley Yelling, and the Scottish No 1 Kathy Butler. Her international opposition includes Lornah Kiplagat, the Kenyan now representing the Netherlands who beat Radcliffe in last year's Puerto Rico 10 kilometre road race, as well as the world 5,000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba and the Olympic 10,000m silver medallist Ejegayehu Dibaba. The woman narrowly beaten by Radcliffe in last year's New York Marathon, Susan Chepkemei of Kenya, also runs.

The men's field has been re-jigged after the withdrawal of Ethiopia's Olympic 10,000m champion Kenenisa Bekele following the death of his fiancée, the world youth 1500m champion Alem Techale, who collapsed from a heart attack while on a training run with him.

The man who took bronze behind Bekele in Athens, Zeresenay Tadesse of Eritrea, was added to the field soon after winning last Sunday's Fuensalida race in Spain, where he finished 12 seconds clear of the European champion Sergey Lebid over a 10.9km course. The 22-year-old finished fourth over the Holyrood Course last year.

Johnson's compatriot Craig Mottram, the first non-African finisher at last year's World Championships, will seek double success for runners from Down Under.

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