Athletics: Palace doubt for mile master

HICHAM EL GUERROUJ may be the new king of middle-distance running but his date at the Palace is in some doubt. The Moroccan, who smashed the world mile record in Rome 11 days ago, was recovering in Casablanca yesterday after falling sick in Nice while preparing for the Nikaia IAAF Grand Prix meeting last night. He has already withdrawn from the Golden League meeting in Paris next week and his scheduled appearance in the CGU British Grand Prix at Crystal Palace on 7 August also looks to be under threat.

Instead of attacking Noureddine Morceli's 2,000m world record last night, El Guerrouj was undergoing tests to determine the precise nature of his illness. He will remain under medical supervision for four days and rest for 10 days. Unless he makes a swifter than expected recovery he may decide to miss his planned mile race in London - in which he had pledged to chase his world-record time, 3 min 43.13 sec - and concentrate on training in the build-up to the world championships, which open in Seville on 21 August.

There were also two notable British absentees from the meeting in Nice, Steve Backley withdrawing from his scheduled clash with his old nemesis Jan Zelezny, the javelin world record holder, and Tony Jarrett scratching from the 110m hurdles, citing "fatigue". Both could miss the CGU world championship trials meeting at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham next Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

One definite absentee will be the new golden boy of British high jumping, Ben Challenger, who has been granted permission to concentrate on his preparations for the following week's European Under-23 Championships in Gothenburg. His place in the British team for Seville has been assured by his victory in the World Student Games in Majorca last weekend.

It has certainly been a good week for Britons on the international circuit. Following Challenger's winning 2.30m jump in Majorca and Curtis Robb's 1:45:51 for 800m last weekend in Latvia, the fastest by a Briton for six years, Jonathan Edwards returned to form with a vengeance in Spain on Thursday night. Competing in Salamanca, where he first broke the triple jump world record in 1995, the Gateshead Harrier hopped, stepped and jumped to the top of the world rankings for 1999 with an effort of 17.71m.

In doing so Edwards struck a mighty psychological blow in the run-up to the world championships, relegating Yoelvis Quesada, the Cuban who succeeded him as world champion in Athens two years ago, to a distant second-place with 17.27m.

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