John Ngugi of Kenya won the men's title at the World Cross-Country Championships Sunday, becoming the first runner to win four consecutive titles.

Ngugi, the Olympic 5,000-meter champion, covered 12 kilometers in 39 minutes, 42 seconds, on a muddy and heavy track at the Stavanger golf course.The 27-year-old civil servant from Nairobi took the lead shortly before the three-kilometer mark and ran alone the rest of the way.

Tim Hutchings of Britain, undefeated in eight previous European races this winter, was second, 28 seconds behind. Wilfred Oanda Kirochi of Kenya finished third in 40:21.

Defending champion Kenya won the team title, with Britain-Northern Ireland second and Ethiopia third. Each team had nine runners, but only the first six placings on each team counted in the standings.

Ngugi was the sixth Kenyan out of the starting gate on the golf course's 18th fairway and wasn't among the top 100 after the first kilometer.

"I was afraid of being spiked and getting an injury in the early rush, so I stayed back," Ngugi said.

"It was a tactical move by my coach. My intention was to go for the lead early in the race."

Ngugi said it was the toughest cross-country championship race he had won.

"It was very tough all the way," he said. "During the race, I had to jump from side to side because of the muddy track."

Three other men - Jack Holden of England, Alain Mimoun of France and Gaston Roelants of Belgium - have won four world cross-country titles, but none did it consecutively.

The Americans had a disappointing race, finishing only ninth in the team competition. Ed Eyestone of Orem was 30th in 41:31 for the best U.S. showing.

Meanwhile, Annette Sergent of France won the women's 6K race, finishing seven seconds ahead of Nadezhda Stepanova of the Soviet Union.

Sergent, who also won the championship in 1987 and was third last year, was timed in 22:27.

Lynn Williams of Canada was third in 22:41, and Lynn Jennings of Newmarket, N.H., was sixth. It was the best finish by an American in the championships' four races.

The Soviets retained the team championship, two points ahead of France. The United States finished third. The top four placings on each team counted in the standings.

The hilly and muddy course, regarded as the most challenging in the championships in 20 years, took its toll, as at least 15 runners were treated for minor injuries. Two runners collapsed, the organizers said. Both reportedly were recovering well.

Addis Abebe of Ethiopia, the 1988 world junior champion and world junior record-holder at 10,000 meters, won the men's 8K junior event in 25:07. He took the lead for good less than a half-mile into the race.