Athletics: Guerrouj rockets to record

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The Independent Online
HICHAM EL GUERROUJ returned to Rome last night to

add a mile world record to the metric equivalent he secured at the Stadio Olimpico last year. The 24-year-old Moroccan covered the distance in 3min 43.13sec to take 1.26sec off the previous mark held by Algeria's Noureddine Morceli six years ago in Rieti. "Rome is a magic track for me," he said. "I can't compare this year with last year. It's another El Guerrouj. I was more concentrated, but the public was the same."

Thus El Guerrouj, named the new Prince of the Desert by his fellow countrymen for the way in which he has taken over the mantle from his great predecessor, Said Aouita, has moved another step closer to his ultimate ambition.

"I want to hold every record that Aouita did," El Guerrouj said. "I want to be the strongest in the world on all distances between 1,500m and 5,000m."

The 1,500m and the mile are now his domain; Aouita's three other world- record distances - 2,000m, 5,000m and two miles - remain in others' possession. For now at any rate.

El Guerrouj, who made the most of the warm conditions at the Golden Gala meeting, third of the IAAF's Golden League series, was pushed all the way by Kenya's Noah Ngeny. However, once he had crossed the line the celebrations began, just as they had last summer when he had taken 1.37sec off Morceli's 1,500m record.

"I believed I could do 3:42 or 3:41 but 300 metres from the end I looked up at the screen and saw Ngeny on my shoulder and that distracted me," said El Guerrouj, who later dedicated his enterprise to his family. "I needed to bring some happiness to my family, as my uncle died recently," he said.

When Morceli was at his peak in the early 1990s it seemed that no one would be able to get close to his times in this millennium, but six years on the Algerian - whose mile record of 3min 44.39sec marked the biggest improvement in the distance for 27 years - has only one world record still to his name - at 2,000m.

El Guerrouj just missed that mark last season and it can only be a matter of time before he annexes it. Last night's performance came as a logical progression for the young man who burst into the limelight as an unknown in 1994 by running 3:33.61 for 1,500m. The two previous best mile times after Morceli's belonged to the Moroccan - he ran 3:44.90 in 1997, and 3:44.60 last year.

It was clear that Morceli's record was living on borrowed time and now it has gone. "Before there was Said Aouita, then Morceli. Now it's the hour of Hicham. Now I believe only the clock can beat me." El Guerrouj now adds his name to a list that runs like a backbone through world athletics.

Since Roger Bannister became the first man to break four minutes for the mile in 1954 the mark has been lowered, including last night's effort, 18 times by some of the best known names in the sport - Herb Elliot, Peter Snell, Jim Ryun, John Walker, Steve Ovett, Seb Coe and Steve Cram, whose 1985 record of 3:46.32 stood for eight years until Morceli's effort in Rieti.

The Algerian reduced the mile mark by the biggest margin since 1966 when Ryun recorded 3:51.3 to lower the previous year's record of 3:53.6 set by Michel Jazy, of France. When the 40th anniversary celebrations of Bannister's milestone achievement took place in London five years ago, Morceli seemed, to those who had run in the1950s, like a creature from another planet. But now the New Prince has provided an even more unearthly level of achievement.

El Guerrouj's was the third world record to have been broken in the space of the past 21 days. On Sunday, Tomas Dvorak, of the Czech Republic, surpassed Dan O'Brien's world decathlon record of 8,891 points with a score of 8,994; and on 16 June, Maurice Greene, of the United States, broke the record which, aside perhaps from the mile, carries the strongest resonance in athletics, recording 9.79sec for the 100m.

Greene ran out victorious over the distance again in Rome last night, although his time, 9.85sec, was relatively sedate by his own extraordinary standards, although he attributed his success to the Roman crowd. "That's is what makes me run fast," the American sprinter said.

Elsewhere, Greene's US compatriot Allen Johnson won the 110m hurdles in 13.01sec, equalling the 1999 world best set last Friday by fellow American Larry Wade, who was third last night but will not be at this next month's World Championships after stumbling in the US trials. Johnson, however, will and on this form he appears likely to retain his world title.

Michael Johnson won his 200m duel with the world champion, Ato Boldon. Johnson clocked 19.93sec while Boldon (20.14sec) faded to be pipped for second place by Barbadian Obadele Thompson (20.12sec).

"I'm just glad I'm healthy again," said Johnson, who ran a season best of 43.92 in the 400m at Lausanne last week. "My focus this year is on the 400m, and the 200m will help me get there," he added.

EVOLUTION OF MEN'S MILE RECORD

time date

3:59.4 R Bannister (GB) 6.5.54

3:57.9 J Landy (Aus) 21.6.54

3:57.2 D Ibbotson (GB) 19.7.57

3:54.5 H Elliott (Aus) 6.8.58

3:54.4 P Snell (NZ) 27.1.62

3:54.1 Snell 17.11.64

3:53.6 M Jazy (Fr) 9.6.65

3:51.3 J Ryun (US) 17.7.66

3:51.1 Ryun 23.6.67

3:51.0 F Bayi (Tan) 17.5.75

3:49.4 J Walker (NZ) 12.8.75

3:48.95 S Coe (GB) 17.7.79

3:48.80 S Ovett (GB) 1.7.80

3:48.53 Coe 19.8.81

3:48.40 Ovett 26.8.81

3:47.33 Coe 28.8.81

3:46.32 S Cram (GB) 27.7.85

3:44.39 N Morceli (Alg) 5.9.93

3:43.13 H El Guerrouj (Mor) 7.7.99

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