A second away from a million

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The Independent Online
Haile Gebrselassie earned nothing more than his stripes, three of them, even though the Ethiopian phenomenon launched track and field's heralded head-to-head weekend with a breathtaking world record run in the Netherlands last night. The $1m prize at stake for running the first back-to-back four-minute miles proved tantalisingly beyond the grasp of the world and Olympic 10,000m champion. By the end of eight compelling circuits of the Fanny Blankers-Koen Stadium in Hengelo, time had stood still for 1.08 seconds, too long for the world's greatest ever distance runner to claim the booty and a place in the sport's history as the man who performed the barrier-breaking Bannister double.

Amid the 20,000 groans which greeted the final flash of the trackside clock, however, Gebrselassie, regarded as an honorary Dutchman, given his summer-time residency in the country, reclaimed the two miles world record he lost to Kenya's Daniel Komen last summer. He did so, moreover, by the not inconsiderable margin of 2.46 seconds. With a time of 8 min 1.08 sec, he truly earned his stripes in the race billed as the Adidas Two Miles Duel.

In fact, the duel was between Gebrselassie and the clock, Noureddine Morceli having fallen off the pace by the halfway mark. The Algerian world and Olympic 1500m champion dropped out before the final lap, which he spent nobly urging his intended rival to win his race against time.

The barrier which confronted both men was twice that which Roger Bannister breached at the Iffley Road track in Oxford on 6 May 1954. Gebrselassie reached halfway in 4 min 00.77 sec, little more than a second slower than Bannister achieved for history's most celebrated single mile, after his morning medical studies in the laboratory of St Mary's Hospital, Paddington.

Tony Whiteman, the European indoor 1500m silver medallist from Kent, had assumed the burden of pacing duties from Croatian Branko Zorco at that stage but Gebrselassie was left to run the final 1,300 metres alone. He reached the bell marginally outside schedule, in 7 min 00.25 sec, and hard though he pushed on his metronomic style the jackpot proved beyond him.

Gebrselassie lamented that it was the weather, not the pacemakers, that cost him a million. "The wind cost me two or three seconds," he said. Morceli explained that his poor performance was due to having felt unwell since returning to sea level from high-level altitude training a few days ago.

Until last night only three double-milers had got within 10 seconds of the eight-minute mark and it was another measure of Gebrselassie's eighth world record run that the man behind him yesterday, Philip Mosima of Kenya, clocked 8 min 14.45 sec - slower than the world record Steve Ovett set in 1978.

Of greater importance to present day British athletics was the world- class 10,000m running of Jon Brown in the Adriaan Paulen Memorial Meeting. The European cross country champion looked the likely winner until the emerging Ethiopian phenomen, Assefa Mezgebu, the 18-year-old world junior champion at 5,000m and 10,000m, caught up with him half-way round the final lap. Brown's reward was the second fastest time ever by a Briton: 27 min 27.47sec.

There was one British victory in the second-ranking grand prix meeting, Linford Christie winning the 100m in 10.23 sec.

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