Athletics: Ngeny's record attempt falters

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The Independent Online
THE FLOOD tide of confidence which has taken Noah Ngeny to the high water marks of middle-distance running ebbed ever so slightly in a chilly Stade Charlety last night as the 20-year-old Kenyan missed the world 1500 metres record by almost three seconds.

Given the conditions at what was the third of the International Amateur Athletic Federation's Golden League meetings, however, Ngeny's winning time of 3min 28.84sec - the third-fastest ever run - represented a formidable achievement for a runner navigating steadily towards next month's World Championships in Seville.

In the space of the last fortnight, Ngeny has become the world's second- fastest man at both the mile and the 1,000m, but his ambition of surpassing the metric mile mark of 3:26.00 set by Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj last year seemed unlikely to be realised because of the weather. It was a fact he acknowledged himself afterwards. "I knew from the beginning that I would not beat the world record this evening. However, I wanted to beat that of Kenya which happily I managed. It's just a pity that the weather conditions weren't perfect."

Although El Guerrouj was absent through illness, Ngeny received a finishing straight challenge from the only other man who has recorded a faster 1500m time, Noureddine Morceli. The Algerian, who set a world record of 3:27.37 four years ago, recorded 3:30.91 - not bad for an athlete who had recently considered retiring.

Kelly Holmes, desperate to realise her huge potential at this year's World Championships after a cruel succession of injuries, measured the distance involved against the first truly world class 800m field she has faced in almost two years. The conclusion - there is a fair way still to go. But she is getting there.

The 29-year-old former Army sergeant, for whom this was only the third competition of the season, finished strongly to take sixth place in a time of 1:59.72 in a race won by the former world champion Maria Mutola.

"Everything is going to plan, said Holmes. "I just need more races. The others were race fit. I'm not. I've just been training."

After a conservative start in which she found herself at the back of the race, she accelerated around the final bend to move into the fray, although she never looked like challenging the leaders. "I knew I had to run my own race at an even pace rather than get involved with the others," said Holmes, who has been preparing herself at a training base in Madrid in order to arrive at the World Championships - which start on August 20 - acclimatised and in optimum shape.

Untimely injuries have all but ruined the last three seasons for Holmes, although she recovered sufficiently last year to take the Commonwealth 1500m silver medal. This season her preparation has been guided by the former British international miler Joe Dunbar, the physiologist who prepared Lennox Lewis for his world heavyweight title fight against Evander Holyfield.

Before last night's effort, Holmes had restricted her racing to two outings, finishing third in the 1500m at Gateshead last month in 4:06.77, and recording 1:58.86 for 800m in Budapest on 3 July. The next item on Holme's racing schedule is this weekend's CGU World Trials and AAA Championships in Birmingham, where she will take another step towards her goals with a run in either the 800 or 1500 metres.

The most eagerly awaited confrontation of the evening as far as the crowd was concerned, was Marion Jones against France's Christine Arron, but it turned out as something of an anticlimax.

The American maintained her pursuit of the $1m (pounds 635,000) jackpot on offer to athletes remaining unbeaten throughout the Golden League series with a 200m victory in what was a relatively sedate 21.99sec. Arron faded to fifth in 22.47 as Jones's compatriot Inger Miller provided the only real challenge, finishing in 22.30.

By the end of the evening, Jones was one of only four remaining contenders for the jackpot, along with Wilson Kipketer, who won his 800m in 1:44.89 despite losing a shoe after 200 metres, Bernard Barmasi, the steeplechase winner in 8:05.71, and Romania's Gabriela Szabo, who won the 3,000m in 8:25.59.

Mutola's 800m victory ended the ambitions held by Svetlana Masterkova, Russia's double Olympic champion; Eric Walder lost in the long jump and Allen Johnson scratched from the high hurdles with injury.

Maurice Greene, seeking to better his 200m best of 19.86sec in the absence of his friend Ato Boldon who pulled out with an injury on Tuesday, had to be satisfied with victory in 20.13 as the evening grew chilly.

Ashia Hansen, Britain's world indoor triple jump record holder, has pulled out of the World Trials and AAAs, citing an injury. "I have a slight strain, and I want to be cautious so close to the World Championship," she said.

According to a reliable source in British athletics, there is no question about the genuineness of Hansen's problem. She has strained a calf muscle, and is unable to jump. Hansen's withdrawal comes a day after a similar decision from Britain's world triple jump record holder Jonathan Edwards, who misses the trials to avoid exacerbating his long-standing foot problem.

Results, Digest, page 27