Athletics: Gebrselassie gambols to world record

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Haile Gebrselassie underlined his claim to being the world's greatest distance runner here last night as he regained his world 10,000 metres record with a display of awesome and metronomic assurance.

Despite running the second half of the race alone, the tiny Ethiopian never deviated from his schedule, and had time to grin and wave as he entered the final straight before finishing in 26min 31.32sec, comfortably inside the mark of 26:38.08 set by Morocco's Salah Hissou last summer.

As he crossed the line, the world and Olympic champion leapt straight into the arms of his jubilant fellow countrymen, Worku Bikila and Habte Jifar, who had paced him to the 51st official world record at the Bislett Games. The capacity crowd of 18,600 set up a roar. Instant party.

Not everyone finished in party mood, however. After her second heavy defeat over 400m hurdles, Sally Gunnell was left contemplating the possibility of retirement.

The 30-year-old former world and Olympic champion, a distant fifth behind Deon Hemmings, clocking 55.53 to the Jamaican's 53.18, is finding it difficult to understand why her performance has dipped since last month's European Cup win. "I have mixed emotions," Gunnell said. "I will decide this week whether to do the world trials or to call it a day."

This sheltered bowl of a stadium, which is likely to be substantially re-built in the near future, has witnessed many magnificent distance records, as testified by the photographs adorning the main stand stairwells of runners such as Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett, John Walker and Ron Clarke.

It was here 32 years ago that Clarke became the first man to run 10,000m in under 28min. Four years ago, Yobes Ondieki broke the 27-minute barrier here, and his fellow Kenyan, William Sigei, improved on that mark a year later.

The 26-minute barrier appears insurmountable - but if anyone were to manage it, you would bet on it being this 24-year-old phenomenon.

By the time Gebrselassie took to the track, the shadows were lengthening across the infield and the flags on the rim of the stadium betrayed a fluctuating breeze. But there was still enough of a warm summer's day left to ease his progress, and the last shafts of sunlight, poetically enough, rested on the madly animated Ethiopian contingent.

By the time the last of the pacemakers dropped off, the satellite was well and truly launched. At 5,000 metres, Gebrselassie recorded 13min 16.74sec, almost nine seconds inside schedule.

He maintained that margin almost to the last, taking advantage of a generous, but questionable gesture by the lapped Portuguese runner, Domingos Castro, who ran with him for over 1,000m.

"I expected the pacemakers to go to 6,000m, and I was a bit afraid," Gebrselassi said. Asked if it had been the perfect race, he replied: "It was a very good race.

"I would say it is a perfect track for long distance running," he added after what was his Bislett debut. "I picked out this race the day after I lost my last record and if anyone breaks this, I will take it back. I thought I could have run even faster.

"This season I will only run for records. I haven't made up my mind about running in the world championships."

Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj nearly matched Gebrselassie's record in the final event of the night, recording 3min 44.90sec, just outside Noureddine Morceli's world record of 3:44.39.

The potential British impact on this meeting had been lessened by the precautionary withdrawal of Jonathan Edwards, who is resting a bruised heel, and Steve Backley, who pulled out of his javelin meeting with the Olympic champion, Jan Zelezny, because of swollen glands in his neck.

Linford Christie, Britain's other 1992 Olympic champion alongside Gunnell, was a happier figure after finishing second behind his friend Frankie Fredericks in the 100m, 10.17sec to 10.11.

Colin Jackson had to give best to Tony Jarrett in the 110m hurdles, but neither could keep up with Florian Schwarthoff of Germany or the winner, Allen Johnson of the United States, who clocked the fastest 1997 time of 13.14sec.

Donna Fraser moved up to fifth on the all-time British 400m list as she chased home Cahty Freeman, of Australia, to record 50.87. That took a large chunk off the personal best of 51.51 she established in finishing second in the European Cup last month.

Donovan Bailey, the world and Olympic 100 champion, broadened his repertoire by running the 200m, displaying huge potential as he beat an experienced field of specialists to win in 20.14sec.

Despite an awful start, and a bend that almost saw him running off to join the crowd, the Canadian did enough in the final straight to see off the home runner Geir Moen, the 1994 European champion.

"I intend to run the 200 maybe twice a season to see how good I could become at the distance," Bailey said. Michael Johnson need not sleep uneasily just yet - Bailey accepts that he still has much to learn at the longer distance. But he is certain that he will beat 20 seconds one day.

"Running against a field like this is a very good test for me," Bailey added. "This is my last grand prix competition before I go to the world championships."

Results, Digest, Page 28