Athletics: Morceli overhauls Aouita's 1500m world record

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Nourredine Morceli, the Algerian world 1500 metres champion, yesterday broke Said Aouita's seven-year-old world record for the metric mile at a meeting in Rieti, Italy. Morceli's achievement came just 24 hours after another of the oldest track and field world records, the decathlon mark of Daley Thompson, was broken by the American world champion, Dan O'Brien.

Just as a season which has been rich in prize-money and medals but short on landmarks was drawing to a quiet close, Morceli found suitable compensation for his Olympic failure by taking one of the most glamorous records in the sport.

Yesterday's performance was the culmination of five days' intensive training in the Italian mountain town, 50 miles north- east of Rome. Morceli missed Friday's Grand Prix finals in Turin to concentrate on his attempts to get over his disappointment in Barcelona, where, as clear favourite, he could only finish seventh in the final in what was generally considered a weak field.

Paced by the Olympic 800m champion, Kenya's William Tanui, Morceli took the lead after a first lap of 53.73sec. Entering the last lap he looked set to knock seconds off Aouita's mark but he faded over the last 100m to finish in 3min 28.86sec, 0.60sec inside his target. He covered the last 400m in 54.96.

The 1500m was the second record of Aouita's to fall since the Olympics, Kenya's Moses Kiptanui knocking the Moroccan off the top of the 3,000m tree last month. Before Aouita took the 1500m record in Berlin in 1985 it was, of course, almost the exclusive property of Great Britain with Steve Ovett, who broke the record three times, Sebastian Coe and then Steve Cram, Aouita's predecessor as record-holder, dominating the first half of the 1980s.

Coe's 800m time of 1:41.73, set in Florence 11 years ago, is now the only British world record in an Olympic event, thanks to O'Brien's efforts at a multi-events meeting in Bordeaux, France. The 26-year-old has come close to taking Thompson's decathlon record, which he set at the 1984 Olympics, on two previous occasions.

At the American championships two years ago, he finished just three points down on Thompson's total of 8,847, albeit with wind assistance in the sprint events; and he was on course to smash the record at last year's world championships until a disastrous high jump cost him around 200 points.

But that was nothing compared with the misery he suffered when missing selection for the Olympics after failing to clear any height in the pole vault at the US trials. On Saturday he safely negotiated all 10 disciplines, setting personal bests in six. One of those came in the 1500m, the final event, and without it the record would have eluded him again but, needing to run under 4:45.00, he came home, cheered on by a crowd of around 8,000, in 4:42.10 for a final total of 8,891.

His triumph was all the more satisfying as he comfortably beat the Olympic champion, Robert Zmelik, of Czechoslovakia, who finished second on 8,344 points.

'I wanted this world record so badly,' an exhausted O'Brien said afterwards. 'Now it feels better than a gold medal. I was so disappointed because of Barcelona. I wanted to prove I was the best in the world. Now I can say I had a good year after all.'

Liz McColgan, the world 10,000m champion, won the Erewash Classic 10-mile race near Nottingham yesterday. Her time of 52:10 broke the course record by 1:46.