reports from Zurich
Three world records fell here at the Letzigrund Stadium last night, two of them from men named Wilson Kipketer. Since Martin Lauer, Germany's sprint hurdler, set the first world mark recorded here in the summer of 1959, the Weltklasse meeting has never experienced a night quite like it.
Wilson Kipketer, late of Kenya and now running for Denmark, finally expunged Seb Coe's 16-year-old 800 metres mark of 1min 41.73sec - the longest-standing record in the books - with a time of 1:41.24. Wilson Boit Kipketer, no relation, lowered the world 3,000m steeplechase record to 7min 59.08 sec.
And, in the climactic event of the evening, Haile Gebrselassie lowered his own world 5,000m record of 12min 44.39sec - set here two years earlier - to an extraordinary 12:41.86.
Wilson Kipketer, the former Kenyan who now runs for Denmark, has had Coe's record, set in Florence in 1981, in his sights for some time now - particularly after he equalled Coe's mark earlier this season.
He claimed it with a perfectly executed race plan. He made the two-lap race look almost like a sprint as his compatriot Joseph Tengelei paced him through the first 400 metres in an astonishing 48.10, compared to Coe's 49.7. He was then cheered round the final 400 metres by an ecstatic crowd, but suggested afterwards that he could go even faster. "It is a great day for Zurich," he said."I am satisfied with this time for now."
After winning the world 800m title last week, the Danish runner was pestered on all sides with questions about when he would break the record. "I'm not interested in the world record," he joked. "I just want to spend the rest of the season trying to break my personal best."
Afterwards, however, Kipketer was more serious in revealing how preoccupied he had been with his challenge. "Everything was perfect today," he said. "The weather, pace and crowd. I didn't like talking about the world record. I just wanted to run it with my legs."
Gebrselassie's triumph was fashioned with an annihilating burst of speed over the final 200 metres which proved too much for Kenya's world 5,000m champion, Daniel Komen.
A year ago Komen had beaten the 24-year-old Ethiopian over the same distance here, although Gebrselassie was competing just two weeks after winning the Olympic 10,000m title on Atlanta's punishingly hard track, while Komen - who did not make the Olympic team - was relatively fresh.
This season, however, both men have followed parallel courses. Gebrselassie regained his world 10,000m record and then defended his world 10,000m title; Komen lowered Gebrselassie's world two miles best before travelling on to Athens himself.
Last night the parallel lines met. As Gebrselassie, his white teeth flashing, cavorted off on a lap of honour, surrounded by the flag-waving supporters who seem to follow him everywhere, the Kenyan was left to reflect on defeat in a time of 12:44.90 - the fastest he had ever run.
Komen, whose frequent signals to the Ethiopian to help make the pace in the later stages were ignored, could have been forgiven a grim smile at Gebrselassie's words afterwards. "First I must thank the Kenyan runners," he said. "They set a perfect pace. The weather also was marvellous. I will try to break 12.40 only if somebody breaks my record."
The first world record of the night came from Wilson Boit Kipketer, the 23-year-old Kenyan, who followed up his world 3,000m steeplechase victory last week by reducing the world record to 7min 59.08sec.
Wilson Boit Kipketer's mark in the steeplechase was 0.01sec inside the old record. His mark was 0.10sec inside that set here two years ago by his Kenyan colleague Moses Kiptanui when he became the first steeplechaser to break eight minutes.
Kiptanui and another Kenyan Bernard Barmafi were still in contact with Kipketer into the final straight, but a final burst of speed proved too much for them. "I didn't expect the record," Kipketer said. "I just felt good and ran. I'm from the tribe Keijo and hope that my eight brothers and three sisters will also celebrate at home."
Michael Johnson, who brandished a Superman outfit after retaining his world 400m title last week, looked as if he had been affected by Kryptonite last night as he struggled to hold off the challenge of seven mere mortals.
The double Olympic champion, rocking with the effort in the final 10 metres, recorded a time of 44.31sec, nearly a second slower than his best, to hold off his American rival Tyree Washington who recorded 44.38.
Davis Kamoga, of Uganda, the world's silver medallist was third in 44.43, with Britain's Roger Black, making his first individual appearance since returning from the virus infection which denied him an individual place in Athens fourth in 45.07.
Colin Jackson, a surprise silver medallist at last week's World Championships, was unable to close the gap here on the man who beat him in Athens, Allen Johnson. The American won the 110m hurdles in 13.13, with Jackson back in fourth in a time of 13.30.Reuse content