Athletics: Jones in line for golden pay-out

THE UNPARALELLED enthusiasts who fill the Letzigrund Stadium each summer, who witnessed three world records at last year's Weltklasse meeting here, had to be content with just one last night, in the 1500 metres wheelchair race. But at least it was won by a Swiss competitor - Frank Nietlispach, who recorded 2 min 59.95sec.

Haile Gebrselassie, who claimed one of those records a year ago, ran more conservatively over 5,000m this time, winning by the usual 50 metres in a time of 12:54.09, some 15 seconds outside his current record. The Ethiopian, nevertheless, remained in contention for a share of $1m (pounds 600,000) at the end of the season.

The presence of five athletes for whom defeat would mean losing out on a possible share of the $1m bonus on offer to those winning all their events in the Golden League added an extra element of dramatic tension to an evening that is traditionally never short in that department.

The first of the contenders to take to the arena on a humid night when the temperature hardly dropped below 30C was Marion Jones, the 22-year- old 100m world champion whose time of 10.71sec earlier this season made her the second fastest woman in history behind her now retired compatriot Florence Griffiths-Joyner. Jones, who plans to mary her fiance C J Hunter, the world shot put bronze medallist, in October, had hoped to dip below 10.70 in the sweltering conditions, but had to settle for a clear victory in 10.77. Neither she nor the crowd appeared in the least bit disappointed. Behind her Merlene Ottey, in what may have been her last appearance at the end of a long and be-medalled career, finished fifth in 11.10.

Jones said afterwards that running for money was not her prime motivation. For all that, she appeared the contender most likely to collect a share of the jackpot after the grand prix final in Moscow on 5 September.

The odds looked decent, too, for Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj. The baby faced 23-year-old won his 1,500m clear by 30 metres, finishing desperately close to the world record of 3:26, he set in Rome last month. Encouraged by the deafening din around him, Guerrouj put in a huge effort over the final 100 metres to stop the clock at 3:26.45. Considering he had not planned to try for a record until the Brussels meeting at the end of this month, it was an effort which will have been greatly appreciated by all those who hold the sport dear.

Bryan Bronson of the United States also maintained his unbeaten Golden League record in the 400m hurdles, winning in 47.70sec without any obvious cause for concern.

But the task proved too great for the other female contender along with Jones - Charity Opara. The Nigerian, who served a drugs ban between 1992 and 1996, appeared to have overtaken her German rival Grit Breuer at the 300 metre mark, but Breuer responded once again to finish a narrow winner in 49.51sec, with Opara second in 49.59. As the German accepted her flowers and applause, the Nigerian stared fixedly at the track, hands on her knees.

Afterwards, Opara said that she had run with a hamstring problem. "I feel only a little bit sorry to have lost the chance for the $1m," she said. That seemed only a little bit likely.

Wilson Kipketer, whose win here over 800m provided one of the world records at last year's meeting, experienced his first defeat since 1995 as he was beaten to the line by a Kenyan five years his junior, Japheth Kimutai. The 20-year-old, who learned his running at the same school as Kipketer - St Patrick's High School, in Iten - ran 1:42.87, just outside the world junior record he set here last year.

But this was only the second race for Kipketer since recovering from a bout of malaria so severe that he had to be hospitalised for 10 days during the winter. In the circumstances, his time of 1:43.18 was exceptional. "Out of all the problems I've had, I'm not surprised that I lost," Kipketer said. "The other boys are far ahead in training."

The only action on the track for British competitors proved mixed. None of the leading sprinters - Darren Campbell, Dwaine Chambers, Christian Malcolm and Marlon Devonish - managed to reach a 100m final that was won in 9.96sec by Nigeria's Seun Ogunkoya, after the Olympic champion, Donovan Bailey, had pulled up with an apparent calf injury.

Michael Johnson once again proved too strong for Britain's 400m runners, winning in 43.68sec, the fastest time of the season. Mark Richardson won the domestic battle, claiming fourth place in 44.48, with Iwan Thomas just behind him in 44.54.

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