Hicham El Guerrouj happy after his world record mile in Rome (© © Allsport)
Hicham El Guerrouj had vowed to return the world record for the mile to Morocco. Tonight he lived up to his word in front of an ecstatic crowd in Rome’s Olympic Stadium.
The record of 3:44.39 set by Noureddine Morceli of Algeria, in Rieti back in September 1993 was the target of the 24 year old Moroccan, who last year thrilled the spectators in Rome as he established a new world record for the 1500m (3:26.00) on his way to a third share in the IAAF Golden League jackpot. He had promised to repeat the performance over the mile, conditions and pacemakers permitting and proved worthy of the challenge.
The pacemakers took El Guerrouj through 440 yards in 55.07; 880 yds in 1:51.58, past the ¾ mile mark in 2:47.91 and, pushed by Kenya’s Noah Ngeny (who set a new Kenyan national record of 3:43.40 and also went under the previous record for the mile in the process), El Guerrouj ran the final quarter mile in 55.22 seconds to set a new world record mark for this, the most classic of all of the middle distance races, of 3:43.13.
The elfin Gabriela Szabo became the first of the contestants for the IAAF Golden League Jackpot to go through to the third leg of the competition here this evening.
Content to follow the pacemakers through the first 800 metres, Szabo then moved to the head of the leaders, with Morocco’s Zahra Ouaziz and Ethiopia’s Berhane Adere hanging on her heels. Ouaziz moved into the lead just past the 1000 metre point and the lead passed between the Moroccan and the Ethiopian until Ouaziz increased her pace at 2000 metres (5:42.28). Running comfortably three strides behind Ouaziz, Szabo ran the perfect tactical race, letting Ouaziz make the running up to 300 metres out from the finish, when Szabo put on a devastating demonstration of her strength at the finish. She broke away from Ouaziz and kicked for the line, leaving the Moroccan behind her as she sprinted for the finish in 8:27.79.
Barbadian Obadele Thompson became the first casualty in this year’s edition of the IAAF Golden League, as Michael Johnson showed that his still The Man to be reckoned with in the half-lap race. The Waco Express, as Johnson is known in the USA, ran away from both Thompson and Trinidad’s Ato Boldon as he steamed down the straight to a 19.93 victory in the 200m. Thompson won in Oslo following the disqualification for a line infringement by Boldon, but here in Rome, the man from Barbados was the one who followed Johnson across the line to take second place in a race that had the Rome supporters on their feet.
Allen Johnson dispelled any doubts about his chances of staying in the jackpot stakes, with a decisive victory in the men’s 110m hurdles. Despite an excellent start by Mark Crear (USA), who currently owns the season’s best of 12.98 over the high hurdles. it was Olympic champion Johnson who prevailed, crossing the line in 13.01 and ensuring that he will still be wearing his IAAF Golden League contender’s yellow bib when the League moves to Paris on 21 July.
Another day is over for Wilson Kipketer. Before this evening’s race, the soft-spoken Dane who holds the world records indoors and out for the 800m, refused to speculate on victory in Rome, as he looked back at the terrible year passed in 1998 and the slow path back to fitness after a debilitating attack of malaria. The first step on the path to excellence came in the first leg of the IAAF Golden League in Oslo, when Kipketer was first across the line in a season’s best performance of 1:43.11. In his second victory in the series of seven meetings, here in Rome this evening, Kipketer once again displayed the fire that made him the sensation of 1997. Taking the lead at the 600m mark, as the pacemaker dropped away, Kipketer kicked into his own personal overdrive mode, showing the crowd in Rome’s Olympic stadium all the perfection of his superb loping stride.
In a brief interlude from the IAAF Golden League events, Maurice Greene clocked the second fastest legal time over 100 metres this season. With a perfect start out of the blocks, Greene powered away from the rest of the field to cross the finish line in 9.85, a new meeting record for the Golden Gala.
Marion Jones also set a new meeting record as she confirmed her appointment with the next stage of the jackpot. There was no contest as Jones burst out of the blocks in her classic head-down style and led all the way to the finish and a time of 22.19 (wind 0.8 m/s). Beverly McDonald (JAM), who was disqualified after the Oslo Meeting, following a clear lane infringement, took second place behind Jones in 22.41.
Russia’s Svetlana Masterkova kept her place in the jackpot stakes, running a perfect tactical race to win the women’s 800m in 1:57.63. Boxed in by Hassa Benhassi (MAR), Maria Mutola, who had been narrowly beaten by Masterkova in Oslo and Stephanie Graf of Austria. Masterkova waited until 80 metres from the finish to move out into the outside lane and kick for home, leaving the others powerless to resist, despite a sterling effort by Benhassi in the last metres, which gave the Moroccan second place.
With a final bound of 8.18 metres, Erick Walder (USA) clinched his place in the Paris leg of the IAAF Golden League. The American moved temporarily into second place following a third attempt of 8.03 by Morocco’s Younes Moudrik. At this stage, Walder had cleared 7.96, a mark also bettered by Jamaica’s James Beckford at his fourth attempt with 7.99. Walder looked doomed as he fouled on his fourth and fifth attempts but he pulled out all the stops and leapt the winning distance.
Nezha Bidouane dashed any hopes Jamaica’s Deon Hemmings may have had of taking a share of the million dollar IAAF Golden League Jackpot to the bank. The Moroccan asserted herself from the penultimate hurdle and burst into the lead, as a visibly tired Hemmings faded, losing ground all the way to the finish, which she finally crossed in fifth place. Bidouane, who had only managed a fourth place showing in the first leg of the Golden League in Oslo was followed across the line by Romania’s Ionela Tirlea
Bernard Barmasai was leaving nothing to chance as he confirmed his claim to the Golden League jackpot stakes. The Kenyan world record holder in the discipline led the field from the time the pacemakers left the track to the finish line, with a comfortable lead, which gradually increased to some twenty metres at the finish. Barmasai completed the course in a season's best and new meeting record time of 8:03.30.
Germany’s Tim Lobinger dropped out of the Golden League with a bang as he failed to clear 5.8O in the pole vault, finishing the competition in joint eighth position. Russia’s Maksim Tarasov won the event with 5.90, ahead of Australian Dmitri Markov
Misfortune also for IAAF Golden League contender Monica Iagar-Dinescu. The Romanian cleared 1.94 at her second attempt and after two unsuccessful attempts at 1.98 elected to attempt 2.00, also unsuccessfully. Russia’s Yelena Yelesina, who cleared 2.00 at her first attempt and then made three unsuccessful tries at 2.03, won the event.
In another of the non-Golden League events staged this evening, Daniel Komen (KEN) won the men’s 5000m in 12:55.16, ahead of countryman Paul Tergat in second place (12:55.37) and Morocco’s Salah Hissou. Intermediate times: 1000m – 2:32.50; 2000m – 5:06.08; 3000m – 7.45.85; 4000m – 10:23.70.
The final failure of the evening in the Golden League came in the men’s javelin. With a mighty hurl of 86.92 metres, upcoming Greek thrower Konstantinos Gatsioudis opened the competition and cancelled any hopes Germany’s Raymond Hecht may have harboured of going through the seven meetings of the Golden League unscathed. Despite a desperate final attempt with his last throw, Hecht was unable to better 83.95 and had to settle for third place, behind Gatsioudis and Russia’s Sergey Makarov, who placed second, with 85.74 at his fifth throw.
Paraskevi Tsiamita closed this year’s edition of the Golden Gala, as she won the women’s triple jump competition with 14.77m, the fourth best performance for the event this season.
IAAF Golden League Jackpot Contenders after the second leg:
800m –Wilson Kipketer (DEN)
110m Hurdles - Allen Johnson (USA)
3000m Steeplechase – Bernard Barmasai
Long Jump – Erick Walder (USA)
200m – Marion Jones (USA)
800m – Svetlana Masterkova (RUS)
3000m – Gabriela Szabo (ROM)
The next stage of the IAAF Golden League is the Meeting de Paris on 21 July 1999. Previews, live results and reports will be available as always on www.iaaf.org.