THE omens were perfect yesterday - Paula Radcliffe's coach experienced the fey feeling she had last sensed five years ago, when her charge won the world junior title, and just before the start, a pigeon encouragingly defecated twice, on the head of Radcliffe's father, Peter.

The influence was enough to ensure that his daughter emerged as the only non-African to win an individual medal at the world cross-country championships, but in the end, luck ran out just seconds too soon.

Radcliffe led inside the final 100 metres, having broken defending world champion Gete Wami, but just as she dared to dream of vic- tory in the Parco del Valentino, the black shadow of Derartu Tulu cut her down like an avenging angel.

The former Olympic 10,000m champion quickly opened a two-second gap by the line - the same margin by which Scotland's Liz McColgan was denied 10 years ago in Warsaw, and still the closest a British-born woman had come to winning the senior title.

The UK women's squad, with City of Glasgow's Hayley Haining an outstanding twenty-second, finished fourth, immediately behind Ireland, their best since 1988.

However, as Radcliffe was quick to point out: ''Had Liz McColgan or Yvonne Murray run, we would definitely have been among the medals.''

McColgan, in fact, had opted out in favour of London Marathon preparations, finishing second in a major road race just 24 hours earlier in Alabama.

Radcliffe might have added that had Ireland's fourth-placed counter, Una English, not defected from the UK to Ireland, it would have been the British girls who would have collected bronze, instead of a quartet which included two disappointed medal hopes - Catherina McKiernan (seventh) and Sonia O'Sullivan (ninth).

The 23-year-old Radcliffe, who had spent a month at altitude in Albuquerque and had not raced for six weeks, has known such disappointment herself, taking five years to metamorphose from junior prodigy to senior star.

''I'm pleased to have run decently as a senior for a change,'' she said.

The two seconds by which Tulu out-kicked her cost $20,000 - half of what the winner collected.

''I thought it was going to be my day. I felt I had won it when I dropped Wami,'' said Radcliffe.

''I was just dreaming that I was about to make history, being first to win both junior and senior titles, when I thought: 'You idiot' but suddenly, Tulu was at my side.

''I felt I'd a bit in hand, but then I ran into some soft ground, and it took the bounce right out of my legs.''

Haining, third UK counter despite being spiked in a physically brutal race, said: ''This was better than I dared hope.

''If you had told me, when I started back running seriously last October, that I would be near the top 20, I'd just have laughed at you.''

Katie Skorupska, daughter of a St Andrew's philosophy professor, was twenty-second in the junior race, but with only one European ahead of her, she must have excellent prospects of medalling at 3000m in the European junior track championships in Slovenia this summer.

''All the climbing to the sixth floor for my maths class at St Leonards must have paid off,'' she said.

Paul Tergat outsprinted the Olympic 10,000m champion, Salah Hissou of Morocco, to win his third successive title, extending to 12 years, the Kenyan domination of the team event. Jon Brown, leading Briton and third European, finished third in the WorldCross series, collecting $12,000. Details (UK unless otherwise stated):

Men. (12,333m): 1, P Tergat (Kenya) 35min.11sec; 2, S Hissou (Morocco) 35-13; 3, T Nyaraki (Kenya) 35-20; 14, J Brown 36-08; 38, C Stephenson 37-05; 43, S White 37-10; 56, A Pearson 37-18; 69, A Bristow 37-32; 105, J Pugsley 37-55; 116, P Roden 38-04.

Team - 1, Kenya (1, 3, 4, 5) 13; 2, Morocco 70; 3, Ethiopia 125; 6, Great Britain 325.

Juniors (8511m) - 1, E Korir (Kenya) 24-21; 2, M Wolde (Ethiopia) 24-28; 3, P Kosgei (Kenya) 24-29; 64, S Haughian 27-12; 66, G Thompson 27-15; 83, A Moses 27-31; 91, D Mitchinson 27-40; 98, S Burton 27-48.

Team - 1, Kenya (1, 3, 4, 5,) 13; 2, Ethiopia 31; 3, Morocco 74; 15, Great Britain 304.

Women (6700m) - 1, D Tulu (Ethiopia) 20-53; 2, P Radcliffe 20-55; 3, G Wami (Ethiopia) 21-00; 18, L Elliott 21-45; 22, H Haining 21-53; 56, A Davies 22-23; 96, S Rigg 23-07; 104, A Whitcombe 23-33.

Team - 1, Ethiopia (1, 3, 6, 14) 24; 2, Kenya 34; 3, Ireland 64; 4, Great Britain 98.

Juniors (4089m) - 1, R Koskei 14-58; 2, P Jepleting (both Kenya) 14-59; 3, A Worku (Ethiopia) 15-02; 22, K Skorupska 15-58; 41, T Povey 16-27; 84, J Ingman 17-07; 92, S Thomas 17-13; 96, L Brown 17-15. Team - 1, Kenya (1, 2, 4, 8) 15; 2, Japan 38; 3, Ethiopia 39; 11, Great Britain 239.