Pearson's brave bronze

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The Independent Online


reports from Alnwick

Two bronze medals won at Saturday's European Championships at Alnwick immediately led to calls for more resources to be made available for this largely ignored branch of British athletics.

Despite the fact that if all of the best distance runners in the country made themselves available for the World Championships in South Africa next March, another medal could be won, the pleas are likely to go unfulfilled.

Several obstacles bigger than anything placed in the path of the runners at Alnwick stand in the way of cross-country in Britain being taken seriously. Television coverage on Saturday again emphasised the lack of spectators, which, in turn, would have put off potential sponsors.

While the new, motivating team manager and former successful competitor, Dave Clarke, dutifully keeps demanding more funding from the British Athletic Federation, a declining budget for the the sport overall precludes any ideas of parity with Continental events where a competitor of Andrew Pearson's ability can command pounds 1,000 appearance money.

In spite of Pearson's inspiring 9km run to finish third behind the champion, Paulo Guerra, of Portugal, and Spain's Alejandro Gomez, and an unexpected fourth by Keith Cullen, who only a month earlier had been stabbed while walking near his home in north London, the British team for the World Championships in Stellenbosch is unlikely to be reinforced by better-known distance runners who will be preparing for the Olympics.

The 24-year old Pearson, who was the first British medal winner in a major international cross-country since 1988, has made a remarkably quick improvement over the past year and could become one of Britain's best distance men for years. The team had to settle for the bronze which was secured by the fourth Briton home. David Taylor dragged himself over the line in 42nd place.

Taking advantage of the absence of the defending champion, Catherina McKiernan, and Portugal's Fernanda Ribeiro, the 18-year-old Annemari Sandell, from Finland, not only added the European senior title to her world junior gold but later sent out a warning to all the sport's big names.

For some distance it seemed that Sandell would be challenged by the slight Sara Wedlund, from Sweden, for whom merely competing was an achievement since she recently recovered from anorexia.

In the women's event, Liz Talbot, 21 this week and making her international debut against a strong Russian contingent, finished tenth, far higher than expected.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 22