Athletics: Twins make debuts in new colours

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The Independent Online

Top English runners Allen and Andy Graffin make their debuts in the colours of Northern Ireland in today's Belfast International Cross Country at Stormont Castle.

Having suffered injury problems in recent years, the twins have had plenty of time to consider switching allegiances to their parents' homeland.

Andy Graffin refuted suggestions the lure of gaining selection for Northern Ireland's Commonwealth Games team for Melbourne in 2006 was a major factor in their decision.

"Really it is something both of us have been thinking about for several years," said Graffin, last year's AAA 5,000m champion. We regularly visit our relatives and in the past officials in Northern Ireland have often asked us why we don't take up the opportunity to run for them."

The 26-year-old Great Britain internationals could not have chosen a stiffer test for their debuts. Facing them and other top British runners, expected to be led home by David Anderson, is a talented array of African runners.

Heading the foreign visitors is Paul Tergat, who won his fifth IAAF world cross-country title in Belfast five years ago. The Kenyan, after a three-year lay-off from a discipline he insists is still as precious as ever to him, won his comeback race in Brussels just before Christmas.

But last weekend Tergat finished third in the Great North Cross-Country, succumbing to Sileshi Sihine and Eliud Kipchoge in a Newcastle mudbath. The teenagers are absentees this weekend but Tergat can expect to be fully tested again by other overseas competitors.

A big threat to Tergat is likely to be his countryman Wilberforce Talel, the Commonwealth 10,000m champion. The withdrawals of Elvan Abeylegesse and Merima Denboba has weakened the women's field. That should leave the way open for Eyerusalem Kuma to assert herself, but Susan Chepkemei will be in contention.

There is a welcome return for Commonwealth Games 1500m bronze medallist Helen Clitheroe, competing for the first time since suffering a pelvic injury eight months ago. Leading the British challenge will be Kathy Butler, Hayley Tullett and Hayley Yelling.