Athletics: Ngeny girded for flood of world marks

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The Independent Online
SUCH HAS been the quality of Noah Ngeny's running in the past fortnight that he now finds himself in a position where great things are expected of him every time he sets foot on a track.

Such expectation can be something of a mixed blessing, but this 20-year- old Kenyan appears to be enjoying the attention his sudden rise to prominence has engendered. At the Stade Charlety tonight, Ngeny - pronounced "Knee- Yen", by the way - will seek to better the 1,500 metres world record of 3min 26sec set by Morroco's Hicham El Guerrouj last year.

El Guerrouj was to have run the event himself in what is the third of seven scheduled Golden League meetings, but withdrew on Friday because of illness. In his absence, the man who chased him home over the mile in Rome a fortnight ago will attempt to earn the glory which his prodigious talents deserves.

El Guerrouj's metric mile record was an outstanding one, taking 1.37sec off the previous mark set by Algeria's Noureddine Morceli, but Ngeny is ready to have a crack at it. "I'm going to try," he said. "My form is not a surprise to me. I have been training hard and doing well."

That is an understatement. His time as a runner-up to El Guerrouj was 3min 43.4sec, the second fastest in history. And last Saturday he missed Sebastian Coe's long-standing world 1,000m record by less than 0.5sec as he recorded 2min 12.66sec, 0.48sec outside the mark the Briton set in Oslo in 1981.

Ngeny's coach and agent, Kim McDonald, based in Teddington, believes that his man can eventually hold the world records at 1,000m, 1,500m, the mile and 2,000m. "Noah could run at least 1:43 over 800m and while he is not as fast as Coe over 800, he is considerably faster at the mile and potentially at 1,500."

While McDonald acknowledges that the task facing Ngeny tonight is not an easy one, he does not rule out the chances of a new mark being set. "We have seen that he is in great shape," McDonald said. "Last year there was a clear gap between El Guerrouj and the rest. Now there are two at the top and I don't see any others competing."

The world 100m record holder, Maurice Greene, who confirmed earlier this week that he will be running at the CGU British Grand Prix on 7 August, runs tonight over 200m, where he is seeking to make an impact in the absence of Ato Boldon. His friend and training partner had to pull out after sustaining a niggling injury while training for the meeting. "I feel that I want to do something special here because Ato is not in the race," Greene said. "I will be happy with the fastest time in the world." That, as Greene is no doubt well aware, belongs to Boldon and stands at 19.86sec.

Greene, who took 0.05sec off the world 100m mark with his time of 9.79sec last month, refuses to concede that he cannot go faster. "I broke the record," he said. "Fine. But I believe I can go faster. I can't tell myself that I have the world record, so I can do what I want. I have to keep working to keep progressing.

"It's one of my goals to beat the world record at the World Championships in Seville next month. If not, why should I keep running? Having the record doesn't change the job I have to do."

For seven other athletes tonight, the job is more straightforward. Marion Jones (200m), Svetlana Masterkova (800m), Allen Johnson (110m hurdles), Erick Walder (long jump), Gabriela Szabo (3,000m), Wilson Kipketer (800m) and Bernard Barasai (3,000m steeplechase) are all still in the running for a share of the $1m Golden League jackpot on offer to those who win their event at each of the seven meetings and finish off with victory in the IAAF Grand Prix final.

Jones, hardly troubled in her two previous Golden League victories in Oslo and Rome, faces her most serious challenge so far this season in the shape of the home runner Christine Arron. The Frenchwoman was beaten by Jones over 100m in the Charlety stadium a year ago, when the American recorded 10.88sec. But Arron went on to take the European title with a time of 10.73sec, only 0.02sec off Jones's legal personal best for the event.

Britain's world triple jump record holder, Jonathan Edwards, who has been troubled by an injury to his left foot, has withdrawn from this weekend's CGU World Trials and AAA's Championships as a precaution.

"I don't want to risk further complications with Seville being so close," said Edwards, who is certain to gain a discretionary place for the World Championships.