Ngugi prepares to face challenge of Denmark

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The Independent Online
Athletics

MIKE ROWBOTTOM

The icy conditions at Durham for today's Bupa International Cross-Country Challenge may remind John Ngugi of the snowy day in Boston three years ago when he collected a record fifth world title. It is, however, likely to be cold comfort for the 33-year-old Kenyan who has returned to action this year after serving the best part of a controversial four-year ban for refusing to take a drug test.

He has been training hard, and is back to his racing weight of just over 10 stone. Ngugi, who was due to fly to Newcastle from London last night, will face more than adverse weather conditions over 9.3km on the Aykley Heads course this afternoon, assuming the weather does not worsen.

Among his challengers are Assefa Mezgebu, Ethiopia's world junior champion, Vincent Rousseau, Belgium's European 10,000m silver medallist, and the best of British. Andrew Pearson, bronze medallist from the European Championships in nearby Alnwick earlier this month, has the consistency to make a major impact.

Paul Evans, second in the New York marathon, has dropped out with flu, but the conditions - reported as "rock solid" - may favour Rob Denmark. The Commonwealth 5,000m champion hates mudbaths; he will not get one today. "I'm not recognised as a cross-country runner," he said yesterday, "but I think I might surprise a few people."

Paula Radcliffe's recent training has been compromised by the increasing demands of the European Studies degree which she will complete next year.

She has not raced competitively since a road relay event in October, but this outing in Durham - over 5.2km - should not end as her last did, when she staggered in a tearful 18th, having faded in the final stages of what was her first major test after a longstanding foot injury.

Her main rivals then - multiple world silver medallist Catherina McKiernan and Olympic 10,000m champion Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia - are not present, but Radcliffe will have her work cut out to match Tulu's compatriot Gete Wami, who was fifth in the last World Championships, Zahra Oaziz of Morocco, a bronze medallist in the 5,000m at the championships, and the eastern European pair Lyudmila Borisova of Russia and Elena Fidatov of Romania.

Alison Wyeth, who limped out of the championships, also returns to international action, and Liz Talbot, Radcliffe's Bedford and County club-mate, will be seeking to consolidate her 10th place in the European Championships earlier this month.

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