Athletics: Backley's record falls to Zelezny

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STEVE BACKLEY, one of the British flagships making full steam ahead for Barcelona, received a full broadside from Jan Zelezny here last night as the Czech, just as he had done at the Bislett Games two years ago, deprived the Briton of his world javelin record. The deed was done with a final throw of 94.74 metres which left Zelezny prostrate on the ground. It surpassed the 91.46m Backley had thrown in Auckland in January of this year.

That was, literally, a staggering achievement for the 26-year-old Czech soldier. What made it even more crushing for the young Briton was the fact that Zelezny had led up to his supreme effort with an unprecedented series of throws - 87.38, 90.10, 90.78 and 91.24. Closer and closer he crept before he had his due reward. He now has the first, third, fourth and fifth longest throws on the record books, although his use of a new model javelin designed by his adviser, Miklos Nemeth, for the first time last night will stir an inevitable controversy.

Backley, whose best was an opening throw of 85.06m, was gracious in defeat, congratulating his opponent immediately. It was, though, a shattering experience with the Games less than a month away. He tried hard to rationalise it. 'I was tired, not injured,' Backley said. 'I was pleased with the 85 metres I did but what Zelezny did was incredible. There are four weeks to the Olympic Games, though. He broke my record here in 1990 and didn't make the European final.'

Another of the big hopes, Liz McColgan, won her 5,000 metres but her performance paled in comparison with that of her Olympic 10,000m rival Elena Meyer of South Africa at the same distance in Stockholm.

Britain's morale was propped up by Linford Christie's victory in the 100 metres, although that was only achieved by the thickness of a vest after he made a start which his coach, Ron Roddan, is likely to play merry hell over.

Christie came out far too low from his blocks and stumbled into Aham Okeke of Norway on his inside lane, allowing the best African of the moment, Olapade Adeniken, to gain a metre lead which he only cut down in the last 10 metres. Both runners recorded 10.17sec. 'If I run that badly in the Olympic Games I could be in trouble,' Christie said.

Tom McKean provided another heartening British performance in finishing strongly to earn fourth place in the 800 metres behind the winner, Mark Everett of the United States, who outstripped the man who beat him in the US Olympic trials, Johnnie Gray, with a time of 143.40.

Elsewhere there were some ominously good performances to set British fancies firmly back into a realistic perspective, notably by Paul Bitok of Kenya who outsprinted Khalid Skah of Morocco to win the 5000 metres in 13.08.89, and at 10,000 metres, where Fita Bayissa of Ethiopia held off Kenya's world silver medallist Richard Chelimo to win in 27:14.26.

McColgan will have to wait at least one more year before her photograph joins those of Ingrid Kristiansen and Grete Waitz, Norway's cherished middle-distance pair, which line the stairs of the stadium's main stand.

McColgan planned to run fast over 5,000 metres - under 15 minutes at least - and hoped to run even faster, with Kristiansen's world record of 14min 37.33sec a possible target. In the event, despite being paced for the first 3,000 metres she ran only quite fast, finishing in 15:01.86, just outside her personal best of 15:01.08 set on this same track in 1987.

Of course, McColgan has travelled further in those last five years than those times would suggest, but, for her own comfort, the world 10,000m champion would have preferred to finish closer to the time of 14:51.42 set two days earlier in Stockholm by Elana Meyer, the South African who may prove to be her main rival for Olympic gold.

Meyer's was a neat, sharp performance, notwithstanding a sag of concentration in the middle. McColgan looked heavy in comparison, and as she followed the Italian pacemaker, Valentina Tauceri, through the first three kilometres in 8.55.00, Kristiansen's record, and Meyer's latest time, the fourth fastest in the world this year, slipped out of range. It is not the sort of performance McColgan wanted with the Games less than a month away. Rather happier with her second place was Jill Hunter, who will join McColgan at 10,000 metres in Barcelona along with Andrea Wallace. She held off Jane N'Gotho, of Kenya, to finish in 15:19.84.