Athletics: Khannouchi's American dream threatens London run

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KHALID KHANNOUCHI, who lowered the world marathon record to 2hr 5min 42sec in Chicago last month, is involved in another race against time which may prevent him appearing in next April's Flora London Marathon.

The 27-year-old Moroccan, who has fallen out with his national federation, wants to represent his adopted country of the United States at next year's Olympics, and if his quest for citizenship is successful, he will be unable to run in London because it clashes with the US trials.

The organisers of the London race said yesterday that they would not prevent Khannouchi following what he describes as his "Olympic dream". Meanwhile Khannouchi is planning to highlight the red tape problems which have delayed his switch in nationality by accompanying President Clinton on a jog in the grounds of the White House.

Whether either of Khannouchi's objectives come to fruition remains to be seen. His wife and agent Paula, whom he married in 1996, has US citizenship after switching nationality from the Dominican Republic. That should have allowed Khannouchi to claim US citizenship by February 2000, but US Immigration office delays have set him back by a further year.

"If Khalid has to run the trials in May, his contract with us would be carried forward to the following year," Dave Bedford, international race director for the London Marathon, said. "We would not stand in the way of him making the 2000 Olympics, although we believe he is fighting a whole load of US politics in seeking citizenship."

Clearly Bedford believes it is more likely that the Moroccan will tow the line on 16 April, a year after being forced to withdraw from the London event because of injury. Khannouchi, who has lived in New York since 1993, was briefly coached in 1995 by his illustrious fellow countryman Said Aouita. But his relationship with the Moroccan athletics federation deteriorated terminally before the 1996 Olympics when he felt he was being unfairly discriminated against by the selectors because he trained and raced abroad. "They didn't give me a chance," he said.

Khannouchi has proved to be an outstanding marathon runner since making his debut at the distance in 1997, following several years as a highly successful competitor on the US road racing circuit. He made the world's fastest debut in Chicago, winning in 2:07.10, and finished second at the same venue last year in 2:07.19 before returning for an even more resounding triumph on the same streets last month.

As he looked forward yesterday to the prospect of his fourth marathon run, Khannouchi - who has been round the London course since arriving in this country on Friday - talked headily of a performance far superior to the current record of 2:07.55.

"If we get perfect weather, and competition, I think we will go for 2:06 or better," he declared. Food for thought for Bedford, who estimated that such a performance would be worth well over $300,000 (pounds 185,000) in bonuses to the man who achieved it.