THE concrete gun emplacements have survived intact on the World War II airport, venue today for the World Cross-country Championships in Budapest. But the record 800 participants from 67 nations need hardly be reminded that their sport is often war.
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When Kenya's William Sigei won last year, it was because his archrival, Moroccan Khalid Skah, was escorted in intimidatory close custody by five other Kenyans, led by Ismael Kirui -- revenge for the Olympics where the Moroccans were perceived to have cheated Kirui's brother out of gold.
Skah heads a Moroccan team coached by Said Aouita, but the Kenyans believe Skah, who has had bronchitis, may be a spent force, and Sigei is favourite to win. Kenya, team victors for the past eight years, are so confident that they feel able to omit world 5000m champion Kirui on disciplinary grounds.
Two Scots, Vikki McPherson and Laura Adam, are in the UK women's team from which injured former world junior champion Paula Radcliffe yesterday was forced to withdraw.
Defending champion Albertina Diaz heads a Portuguese team which includes world half-marathon champion Conceicao Ferreira and European indoor 3000m champion Fernanda Ribeiro. Their title rivals, China, have omitted all their world track champions.
* ''WE would rather be beaten in a close race than win by a distance.''
That was the laudable sentiment expressed yesterday by Alan Robson, founder and tactician of Leslie Deans Racing Club who defend their Scottish six-stage relay title today at Livingston in the final championship of the road and cross-country season.
Last year, at Dumfries, his club won a poorly supported race by 4min. 06sec. ''That's no use to anybody,'' added the former British professional mile champion.
Without marathon man Peter Fleming, and Robson's brother, John, Racing may be more severely tested by Cambuslang, Shettleston, Falkirk, and Kilbarchan, though Racing are also the form team on this course, victors last time the event was staged here, in 1992.
This is the fourth time that the course, adjacent to Livingston South Station, has been used for the event, and the Edinburgh club includes David Ross and Brian Kirkwood, the two fastest men on the short (3.2-mile) stage.
Racing are using the event to blood some less experienced runners in preparation for the English 12-stage championships, in Birmingham on April 30. But this will be the last team outing for Racing's notorious radioactive cherry red strip, the rig the others love to hate. The club has signed a deal with Mizuno, worth #4500, which will see them switch to cobalt blue tops and turquoise and black shorts.
Alan Robson, if he is not called on to race a long stage today, will attempt to win the Alloa half-marathon tomorrow (11am) for the sixth time.
He can expect tough competition from Tommy Murray and Terry Mitchell in a race which last year attracted almost 1000 starters. Entries (#5) will be accepted on the day at Lornshill Academy.
* MURRAY, Robert Quinn (Kilbarchan), and Alan Puckrin (Greenock Glenpark) have been selected to represent Scotland in the Northumberland Castles Series of road races next month.
They were due to run the opening two events, with the squad being revised for the final race. Puckrin, however, has a knee injury and reserve, Adrian Callan (Springburn), has been called in. Other reserves are Graeme Croll (Cambuslang), Graham Wight (Shettleston), and John Robson and Peter Fleming (Racing Club).
* CITY of Glasgow AC were honoured last night by a Glasgow City Council civic dinner to mark their successful 1993 season during which they won the UK league.