Athletics: Resolute Murray rises above the recriminations: McColgan leads in the park before she succumbs to her Scottish rival

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The Independent Online
VULNERABILITY is something which has always been more readily associated with Yvonne Murray than Liz McColgan. But the general perception of which one is the toughie and which the softie is altering, just as it did with those other rivals, Steve Ovett and Seb Coe.

After her ruthless defeat by Murray over 5km in Saturday's BUPA Festival of Road Running at Aberdeen, McColgan had a hunted look. When Murray came across to her, it was more than she could do to accept the offer of an arm around the shoulder. Perhaps it was the prospect of further proximity to Murray that proved so alarming, given the way that the Musselburgh runner had crowded McColgan for 4,000 metres before taking off to win in a devastating sprint.

The importance of these tailored- for-television road races in an Aberdeen park was not great. Steve Cram, who suffered a twinge in his left calf 500 metres from the end of his 5km race, had no qualms about slowing to a jog and allowing Paul Evans to take the runner-up place behind Morocco's uncatchable Olympic 10,000m champion, Khalid Skah.

Even so, there was clearly pride - and of course, money - at stake. There was no mistaking the distress of Kenya's world junior 800m champion, Benson Koech, after he had been disqualified as the winner of the mile because he had unwittingly followed the BBC camera buggy, which preceded the field, as it made an unauthorised short cut. Curtis Robb's victory has now left him contemplating an 800/1500m double at the world championships.

Pride rather than money was what made Murray push competitiveness to the edge in her efforts to unsettle McColgan, but as she justly observed, the occasional bumping between the two would not have excited comment had it occurred in a busier track race. There was something plaintive about McColgan's complaints afterwards. 'It was very annoying,' she said. 'I suppose that's an advantage to her.' Well, yes. But what was a competitor of McColgan's experience doing in allowing herself to become rattled by it?

While things are going swimmingly for Murray, McColgan is finding life more problematic. Sixth in the Olympic 10,000m final and third in the London Marathon is hardly a bad record, but at the end of 1991 she seemed on the brink of even greater achievement.

'Things can't get any worse,' she said, with rare and disarming candour. 'I realise I've made mistakes. I have gone into races without being fully recovered. But the emphasis is changing now.'

It is against this background that her husband, Peter, has stepped down as her coach. The man now guiding her career is her manager, Kim McDonald, who also coaches Peter Elliott.

Whether McDonald, a leading agent, can devote sufficient time to guiding one of Britain's finest athletic talents remains to be seen. 'If anything goes wrong,' McColgan said, 'Kim's the boy to blame, because I'm doing everything he says.' For everybody's sake - and not least Kim's - let's hope he gets it right.

(Photograph omitted)