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Tulu regains World Cross Crown

Tulu regains World Cross Crown

18 March 2000 - Vilamoura, Portugal - Derartu Tulu reclaimed her crown as the sport's finest female distance runner as she pulled off a stunning victory in the World Cross Country Championships here.

The Ethiopian, the Olympic 10,000 metres champion in 1992 and the winner of this title in 1997, triumphed over her team-mate and the defending champion Gete Wami in a thrilling sprint finish to the end of the 8 kilometres race.

As the temperature reached 22 degrees for this high noon showdown, Tulu beat her friend with a fierce kick down the finishing straight of this course which was run around the rolling greenery of the Algarve. It made nonsense of her claim that she was concerned that the pace would be too  fast for her.

"I was worried they would be to quick," Tulu said. "I thought I could finish in the top five but I didn't think I could win it."

From the gun the pace was fierce as the Kenyans, led by Lydia Cheromei, threw down the gauntlet to their Ethiopian rivals, Ireland's 1998 champion Sonia O'Sullivan and Britain's Paula Radcliffe, who had finished second, second and third in the last three editions of this event.

Surprisingly, the first to fall off the leading group after four kilometres was O'Sullivan, returning to major international competition for the first
time since giving birth to her daughter Cairia last July. Much had been written about how motherhood makes runners stronger and more was expected from O'Sullivan than the seventh she eventually finished.

"I could have stayed at home but I had to find out where I am," she said. "Now I have to go away and work on it. At the end of the day I think it was a lap too far."

Instead it was Tulu, another mother having had a baby in 1998, who was to win. She stayed in the middle of the group while Cheromei and Susan   Chepkemei wound the pace up, forcing Radcliffe to drop back in the final kilometre.

Tulu waited until she had breasted the man made hill for the last time before making her winning effort. It was covered by Wami, who led coming into the long home straight only to see Tulu, her long hair extensions trailing behind her, sprint past again.

Chepkemei finished third while Cheromei held off Radcliffe for fourth. The Briton had put so much effort into her race that she collapsed over the finish line and needed medical attention for several minutes.

"When Sonia got dropped I thought that was the injection of pace but there was another two or three after that," said Radcliffe. "It was easily the hardest World Cross I've run in."

Ethiopia, with Merima Denboba finishing eighth and Ayelech Worku ninth, retained their team title with Kenya again finishing second. But the big surprise was that the United States, inspired by great runs from Deena Drossin in 12th and Jennifer Rhines 13th, took the bronze - their first medal since Boston 1992.

[Duncan Mackay in the athletics correpsondent for The Guardian in the United Kingdom]