Athletics: Komen the new time lord

Simon Turnbull says a great Kenyan can take his place in history this week
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The Independent Online
Time has been standing still for seven days now. Since Bernard Barsami broke the seventh world track record in 11 days, steeplechasing 3,000 metres in a staggering 7min 55.72sec in Cologne a week ago, the human speed limits have remained steadfastly intact. The pause, however, is probably a pregnant one.

The fast track in Rieti, some 40 miles north-east of Rome, has acquired quite a reputation for ground-breaking middle- distance performances. Since Maricica Puica set a new standard for the women's mile there in 1982, Steve Ovett (1500m), Noureddine Morceli (1500m and mile) and Daniel Komen (3,000m) have all broken world records in the Citta di Rieti meeting. In this remarkable summer of revisionist running it would not be unreasonable to expect further amendment to the record book when the clock-chasing world comes to Rieti on Wednesday. The list of new or equalled world-record times, or world bests, in men's middle- and long-distance events already stands at 11. And Sandro Giovanelli, the organiser, has lined up four pace-made assaults for his annual extravaganza.

Wilson Kipketer will be attempting to make a fourth impression on the 800m record, Moses Kiptanui will be chasing Barsami's steeplechase time and Hicham El Guerrouj will be pursuing his holy grail of a Morceli record, the 3min 27.37sec his North African rival clocked for 1500m in Nice in 1995. Morceli lines up in the 1500m himself but the Algerian may lose his most treasured world record without a personal fight. The mile marker he set in Rieti four years ago, 3min 44.39 sec, could be crushed by the burgeoning time machine called Daniel Komen.

The Kenyan bestrides the present of middle- and long- distance running - as holder of the 3,000m and 5,000m records, as the 5,000m world champion, as the only man to have broken eight minutes for two miles and (after just one high-class tilt at the event) as the fourth- fastest ever miler. At 21, it seems that Komen will dominate the future too. And, should he succeed, the range of his talent will propel him into yet another dimension - the timeless preserve of the all-time great. Only two men have broken the mile and the 5,000m records: the Swede Gunder Hagg, who held both records from 1945 to 1954, and Paavo Nurmi, the finest of the flying Finns, whose double-time stretched from 1923 to 1931.

It was at Rieti last year that Komen first emerged as a man apart, eclipsing Morceli's 3,000m record by a whopping 4.44 seconds. This year, with his loping gait, he has taken the two miles world best from 8:03.54 to 7:58.61 and the 5,000m world record from 12:44.39 to 12:39.74. It lends perspective to the giant strides he has made to consider that his record-breaking 5,000m run in Brussels nine days ago was more than 18 seconds quicker than the global best held as recently as 1994 by Said Aouita. And it underlines Komen's considerable middle-distance potential to note that his winning 1500m time in the Monte Carlo Grand Prix meeting a fortnight ago, 3:29.46, precisely matched Aouita's old world record for the distance.

The 3:46.38 mile he clocked behind El Guerrouj in Berlin last Tuesday was a further indication that the Blue Riband record could be within his grasp in Rieti; it was a nine-second improvement on his previous best. And Komen, lest it be forgotten, started his senior racing life as a 10,000m runner at the Commonwealth Games three years ago. "We were actually thinking about planning for a 10,000m at the start of next year," Kim McDonald, Komen's Teddington-based manager, said. "Then I thought, 'Why?' Sebastian Coe won the 3,000m when I ran against him in the English schools championships. He did nothing as a 3,000m runner but he ran 1min 41sec for 800m.

"We're just finding out what Daniel can do over the shorter distances. I fully believe the world mile record is an achievable target. He could have gone for the 2,000m world record instead in Rieti but that's the easier. The mile is more interesting."

It will be interesting for British athletics too, and not merely because of the Teddington connection. The 1500m in the Bupa meeting at Gateshead a week today just happens to be the final frontier on the European circuit this summer for McDonald's Kenyan time-traveller - another fanfare, perhaps, for the Komen man?