King loses his Holyrood crown

THE Ethiopian great, Kenenisa Bekele, suggested this week, with all sincerity, that cross-country might be a worthy addition to the Winter Olympic Games programme, given the wholly distinct challenges that it provides from the track.

Suffering a rare defeat at yesterday's Bupa Great Edinburgh International, it was unclear whether his enthusiasm for the concept remained intact. However, on a snow-covered Holyrood Park course that was as treacherous as it was picturesque, world's greatest-ever cross country runner was caught cold by the collective might of Kenya's finest, Joseph Ebuya leading home a sweep of the podium places that left the presumed victor dragging his heels in fourth

It had been a tactical mistake to have arrived in the capital three days before the event, Bekele admitted. "I missed training because of the snow," he said. "I came from home where my training was very good. Maybe I missed too much over the past few days."

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In truth, you wondered whether Ebuya, running with total confidence in temperatures some 22 degrees lower than his homeland, might not have triumphed regardless after he and Titus Mbishei broke decisively clear in the early stages. "I tried at the beginning to keep up, but my body was not going well," Bekele affirmed. "I kept going as normal. How can I say it wouldn't be my day? There were many things going on."

Further back, Chris Thompson was the leading Briton, in seventh, while Napier University student Dan Mulhare was 13th.

Steph Twell, running in front of a home crowd for the first time since switching her allegiance to Scotland, rediscovered her best form by coming fifth in the women's six-kilometre race. At one stage, with just a lap remaining, she threatened greater rewards after forming a domestic block at the head of the field with recently-crowned European champion, Hayley Yelling-Higham. Their twin challenge proved unsustainable, however, once Ethiopia's world and Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba decided to accelerate.

Repeating her win of 2005, she was gone before her rivals had noticed, ultimately ending ten seconds ahead of Kenya's Vivian Cheruiyot. Twell, out-sprinted by Yelling, could not live with such potency, while Scotland's Freya Murray, back in eighth, had long since been left behind. After the traumas of December, where Twell was a non-factor in the Europeans in Dublin, this was enough for her to cling on to.

"It was a tough sprint finish because I'm not a fan of running downhill," Twell said. "I've always been quite cautious because of the injury risk. But I did try to go a bit harder the second time because I knew we were near the finish. Hayley, she's so tenacious. She's a great athlete and she really dug in. It did help me because the Kenyan (Milcah Chemos in sixth) is so light and she really threw herself down with no care in the world. They came past me, but because Hayley was there it made me respond."

Mo Farah, silver medallist last month in the European championships, flattered but then deceived in the four-kilometre event. Bolting away at the outset, the Londoner looked imperious as he built a 15-metre advantage. But Ricky Stevenson and Steve Vernon reined him in and with one lap remaining drew level. Stevenson, 21, soared aggressively past Vernon and bolted towards the tape, winning by three seconds.

Farah will look for answers when he heads this week for the altitude of Kenya. "My aim now is to put that behind me and get ready for the indoor season," he said. "I think I went too hard and towards the end, there was nothing I could have done. That's tactics. I got it wrong, but I'm sure I won't do that again. The aim is to forget about it, get strong and get ready for the world indoors."

For Stevenson, the surprise victory can only embolden his ambitions. "It's a challenge when you're out on the start line beside some of the world's best," he said. "As young guys, you try to hang on to their coat tails. But I hung on, and it was my day today."

Ross Matheson (East) won comfortably in the Under-17 category at the adjoining Scottish Inter-District Championships with Rhona Auckland (East) equally dominant in the women's race.

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