Athletics: Cram running out of time to take on world

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

STEVE CRAM's time for reaching one last world championship is fast running out. The 32-year-old world mile record holder, who needs to run the 1500m in under the qualifying time of 3min 36.50sec before 5 August to have a chance of being selected for Stuttgart, pulled out at short notice from his race in last night's TSB Games at Crystal Palace.

He will now concentrate his efforts on next Friday's Vauxhall Invitation meeting in front of his home fans at Gateshead. Cram, who has been bothered by calf and Achilles tendon problems this season, said:

His decision came as a surprise to Jimmy Hedley, the coach who helped launch his career. He had expected to see Cram on the training track on Thursday night. Even if there is nothing wrong with Cram, such vacillation does not augur well for his chances.

Admittedly, Cram is short of 1500m work, having switched back from his plan to run the 5,000m after finishing third in the Dream Mile at Oslo on 10 July. Last week both he and Matthew Yates were outside the qualifying time in the combined AAA Championships and world championship trials at Birmingham.

Cram's decision adds local colour to the Gateshead meeting, which will stage the pounds 200,000 sprint challenge between Linford Christie and Carl Lewis. If Cram requires a time after that, the grands prix at Cologne on 1 August and Zurich three days later appear to be his last chances.

Last night's grand prix in London provided a rare chance of racing for an illustrious contemporary of Cram's - Joachim Cruz, Brazil's former Olympic 800m champion, who since his triumph in 1984 has suffered a succession of illness and injury which is beyond anything even Peter Elliott has suffered.

When Cruz, now 30, held off Seb Coe's determined challenge in Los Angeles, it seemed that the world was witnessing a runner who would dominate the middle distance as Coe himself had done. That impression was confirmed shortly after the Olympics of 1984, when Cruz came closer than any other man has done to Coe's 1981 world record of 1min 41.73, recording 1:41.77 in Cologne.

However, the takeover never quite happened. Cruz explains why - and it takes quite a while to do so. In 1986 he required surgery first on a knee, then on his Achilles tendon. In 1987 he got bronchitis, although he still managed to win the Pan-American championships.

In 1988, remarkably, his luck held, and he won an Olympic 800m silver medal to add to his gold, after finishing behind Paul Ereng, of Kenya. But in 1989 the familiar pattern returned. He had further surgery on his Achilles tendon, and then another operation to remove the consequent scar tissue. In 1991, half-way through the grand prix series, his hamstring went. He missed the whole of last year with more Achilles tendon trouble, and ran his first 800m of this year on Wednesday, where he recorded a time of 1:49.21 in Ingolstadt, Germany.

Cruz, who has one year of a four-year course in physical education still to do at college in San Diego, remains admirably balanced about his career. 'I take one day at a time,' he says. He traces his main problem to the fact that he tried to return to training too soon after having his knee operation in 1986. 'That was the biggest mistake I made,' he said. 'I was back competing within a month of surgery, and that was when I hurt my Achilles tendon.

'I very well understand the problems Cram is having now. He is like me. He doesn't just want to train to compete like everyone else. He wants to win. That's why we keep getting hurt. Because we are trying to be winners.'

As for those currently having more success in that sphere, Cruz still doesn't see anyone around who looks likely to approach Coe's record. 'You have got to be fast, and you have got to be resistant,' he said.

Meanwhile, British athletics officials have denied accusations of incompetence directed at them by the world pole vault champion, Sergei Bubka, who failed to get a visa for the Crystal Palace meeting.

Bubka criticised the British Athletics Federation (BAF) when he left Nice on Thursday night, saying they had failed to get him and nine other former Soviet athletes visas for the London meeting. But the meeting promoter, Andy Norman, rejected the accusation, and blamed the athletes' managers for not applying for British visas as advised.

Bubka said: 'The British federation were sleeping. They should have sorted the visa arrangements out. It's typical of them.'