2008 World XC Champs - Australian senior women's team celebrate their team Bronze - (L-R) Melissa Rollison, Lisa Jane Weightman, Anna Thompson and Benita Johnson (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Edinburgh, Scotland

Johnson back on Beijing schedule as Aussies bag team bronze - Edinburgh 2008

"In six weeks time I'd have been a contender to win," declared former champion Benita Johnson after leading the Australian women to the team bronze medals behind the all-powerful Ethiopians (18 points) and Kenyans (22) in the 36th IAAF World Cross Country Championships at Holyrood Park, Edinburgh.

The Aussies' total of 84 points snatched a podium place from a desperately disappointed USA by just  three points but was well clear of the next African country Morocco in fifth position with 100 and  the first Europeans, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, who were sixth with 116.

"We stacked really well and had a really good race," said a delighted Benita, who has never accepted that the African runners are unbeatable in this discipline.

Lisa Weightman (20), Mellisa Rollison (26) and Anna Thompson (27) gave close support to Johnson, who won the title in Brussels in 2004 and was first non-African this time in 11th place:  "I'm thrilled as I was only fifth in our trial - I've had a knee injury - now I can concentrate on my preparations for Beijing."

Interestingly, considering that she recently withdrew from the Flora London Marathon in two weeks time because she felt she had lost too much training, Johnson has not ruled out running the marathon in the Olympics: "It'll be either the 10,000 metres or the marathon," said the 28-year-old Oceania record-holder for both events.

Johnson, who lives in Melbourne and is coached by Nic Bideau, refused to accept that the team's medal success had been a surprise: "All the girls have been running really well."

But she pay tribute to Bideau's wife, Irish legend Sonia O'Sullivan, who won both long and the now-discontinued short course races in Marrakech in 1998 and is now Australian team manager.

"Sonia's a fantastic inspiration for any team and most countries would give their eye teeth for that."

Johnson's sometime training companion and fellow Australian Craig Mottram, whose mother is a Scot and who was hoping to produce something special for his many Scottish fans, was unable to take inspiration from her run and was so disappointed with his 31st place in the men's race that he walked past waiting reporters at the finish without pausing to speak.

Mottram's team were no more successful and could finish no higher than ninth, with 400 points, which was still better than the host nation could manage, the British men finishing 11th with 444 points.

It was left to the Americans to put up the best display by the non-African teams, finishing seventh with 301 points.

The reason for the relatively bright American displays, according to leading UK distance coach Bud Baldaro, is down to funding: "They're getting groups together all over the place."

And Baldaro had words of encouragement for the British women: "The juniors (who were fourth without the injured Steph Twell) did well and so did the seniors, considering they were without Paula (Radcliffe), Kate Reed and Jo Pavey, also did well.”

Sandy Sutherland for the IAAF