Athletics: Ngeny closes on Coe record

THE FINAL vestige of Britain's golden age of middle distance running survived a new age assault on the Cote D'Azur last night. By less than half a second - 0.49 sec, to be precise - Sebastian Coe's 1,000m world record eluded the clutches of Noah Ngeny, the 20-year-old Kenyan who has a training base in Teddington and whose burgeoning running career is guided by Kim McDonald, a rival of Coe in their teenage years in Yorkshire.

At the Nikaia grand prix meeting in Nice, Ngeny followed a stunning performance 11 days ago in Rome, where he clocked 3min 43.40sec behind Hicham El Guerrouj's world mile record, with another outstanding run. In stopping the clock at 2:12.67, he is the latest to highlight how exception-al Coe's record was, 2:12.18 in Oslo in 1981. Steve Cram and Noureddine Morceli both tried to break it but neither came as close as Ngeny, who was inspired on the track where he broke Jim Ryun's world junior mile record two years ago.

The meeting was due to feature another world record attempt, by El Guerrouj in the 2,000m, but the Moroccan fell sick on Friday and also withdrew from the Paris Golden League event next Wednesday. But Mark Richardson made his presence felt, winning the 400m with ease in 44.99sec. His was not the only encouraging British performance.

John Mayock ran an astutely paced race in the 1,500m, finishing strongly to take third place behind the Algerian Ali Saidi-Sief and Seneca Lassiter of the United States in 3:33.96, his fastest time of the season. Katharine Merry was less prominent in the women's 200m, though fifth place in 22.90sec was a more than satisfactory performance by the 24-year-old Birchfield Harrier after a disappointing run in the European Cup last month.

There were two notable British absentees, Steve Backley withdrawing from a scheduled clash with his old nemesis Jan Zelezny, who won the javelin with a throw of 85.46m, and Tony Jarrett scratching from the 110m hurdles, citing "fatigue". Both could miss the CGU world championship trials at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham next weekend.

A definite absentee will be the new golden boy of British high jumping, Ben Challenger, who was allowed to concentrate on the following week's European Under-23 Championships in Gothenburg. The 20-year-old Charnwood Harrier - whose father, Romeo, was the drummer for Showaddywaddy - will miss a "battle of Britain" clash with Steve Smith, who tops the world rankings with 2.36m. His place in the British team for Seville was assured by his 2.30m win in the World Student Games in Majorca last weekend.