Bronze for promising Irish junior

 

Gareth Turnbull delivered on his reputation as one of the most talented of Ireland's emerging athletes by finishing third in the European Junior Cross Country Championship at Ferrara in Italy yesterday.

It was only in the closing stages of an exciting race that the Belfast-man capitulated as Jeussef El Nassri of Spain pulled away to win from Romania's Ovidiu Tat in 16 minutes 50 seconds for the 5,600-metre journey.

Turnbull, who also won a bronze medal in the European Junior 1,500 metres track championship last year, was just five seconds behind the winner at the end of a run which delighted Irish team officials.

Together with El Massri and Tat, he got away from the field shortly after halfway, but in the end he didn't have the pace to cope on an exceptionally fast course.

It was a highly encouraging performance which will do much to accelerate his preparations for the world championship on home terrain in Belfast in March.

Sergy Lebid of the Ukraine was the surprising winner of the men's senior championship after fighting off a tremendous challenge by the naturalised Belgian Mahamid Mourhit to win by a second in 28 minutes 7 seconds. Driss El Himer, another African-born runner, was third for France.

With Irish national champion Seamus Power hitting an off day, it was left to Martin McCarthy, the only newcomer in the team, to lead Ireland's challenge in 16th place in 28.47. McCarthy, the Irish 5,000 metres track titleholder, went out steadily but after languishing in 28th place on the third lap, he gradually picked off some of those in front of him over the last two circuits.

Peter Matthews, back after injury, finished 21st some way clear of his team-mates, Noel Berkeley (35th), Cormac Finnerty (36th) and Noel Cullen (37th).

Unfortunately Power never looked comfortable in the prevailing conditions and after losing contact at a relatively early stage was the last Irish finisher in 45th place, almost a minute and a half behind the new champion.

Paula Radcliffe showed that she will be a big threat to Sonia O'Sullivan in the world championships when winning the women's title, going away from former champion Annemarie Sandell of Finland in 18 minutes two seconds.

For the second consecutive year, Yugoslavia's Olivera Jevtic finished third, just ahead of the Olympic 10,000 metres champion Fernanda Ribeiro of Portugal.

Valerie Vaughan finished in 31st place, but Una English picked up 15 places over the last 2,500 metres to finish 15th in 18.56. Other Irish placings were: Maureen Harrington (44th); Marie McMahon (47th) and Lisa Cavanagh (51st).

Turnbull's achievement in the men's junior championship was all the more creditable as he received little help from his team-mates. Gary Murray finished in 41st place, Colm Mclean was 45th, Joe McAllister 59th and Gary Thornton 68th.

The Irish placings in the women's junior race, which was won in impressive style by Katalin Szentgyorgyi one of only two Hungarians in action in the championships, were: Ita Byrne (42nd), Anne Marie Larkin (55th), Martina Hickey (55th), Caroline Daly and Caroline O'Regan (joint 62nd).

Two top Brazilian athletes were killed in a car crash. Long-jumper Douglas de Souza, 26 - the South American record holder - and triple-jumper Gustavo Lima Pinto, 21 died when the car they were travelling in smashed into a pillar near Porto Alegre in southern Brazil.