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Athletics: Twell takes another positive step

If the cross-country season marked the last stage of Steph Twell's rehabilitation, then Bydgoszcz yesterday signalled that the Scotland internationalist has lost none of her resolve since the ankle surgery that thwarted her hopes of a second Olympic appearance last year.

On snow-covered Polish tundra in temperatures of minus four degrees, the 23-year-old came unscathed through her hardest test yet, finishing 40th in the world championships and completing the awkward eight-kilometre course in 25 minutes and 58 seconds to help Great Britain and Northern Ireland to seventh in the team standings.

Twell was never expected to mount a challenge to Africa's dominance. Even Ireland's Fionnuala Britton, Europe's finest exponent, languished in 14th as Kenya's Emily Chebet produced a dazzling sprint over the concluding 500m to repeat her victory here of 2010 in 24:24, just in front of Ethiopia's Hiwot Ayalew.

Yet as she prepares for a summer where the world championships and earning the qualification time for the Commonwealth Games are her twin priorities, Twell will now retire temporarily from the spotlight to put in the hard graft she needs to recapture her best form on the track.

"There have been ups and downs because we're working as we go," she said. "We had Christmas, then world cross. So from April I'll look to have some more consistency before the track season begins. I might go away for a week of warm-weather training, just to have a change of environment."

Kenya's Japhet Korir was a surprise winner in the senior men's race, while there was an unexpected bronze for the British team in the junior women's event with Twell's training partner Emelia Gorecka heading their bid in 16th.

"We were aiming to do better than last time, and we did," said UK Athletics head coach Peter Eriksson. "The junior team were much improved on two years ago, with the women picking up a medal, which was phenomenal. The senior men were also better, 11th against a 15th place last time, so it's all very hopeful and I'm very pleased with the result."

The next world cross is in China in two years but there is real concern about the dwindling number of elite competitors signing up. IAAF president Lamine Diack has promised to take action.

"It has to come from the top down," said Twell. "If it's deemed important by the IAAF, then federations will support it. They'll want to be in the medal mix."

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