Athletics: Runaway Ondieki sets record of epoch proportions: Kenyan's exercise in expansion culminates in remorseless run to 10,000 metres world record and marks new era in distance running

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The Independent Online
IT WAS six in the morning and Lisa Ondieki was checking herself and her husband out of their hotel here in time for an early flight. Yobes himself was trying to grab 10 minutes' sleep; the exhilaration of his achievement the previous evening was such that for hours afterwards even resting had been impossible. 'He was so excited,' Lisa said. 'So wound up.'

In the sheltered bowl of the Bislett Stadium, Yobes Ondieki had done for 10,000 metres running what Roger Bannister did for the mile. By becoming the first man to complete the distance in less than 27 minutes, he had shifted the event to a different level in the same way that Ron Clarke had 28 years earlier in the same stadium.

In 1965, the Australian knocked 36 seconds off his own 10,000m world record in breaking 28 minutes. Such a huge improvement is never likely to happen again; but in modern terms, Ondieki's reduction of the record was massive as he took it from the 27min 07.91sec set by his fellow Kenyan Richard Chelimo five days earlier to the epochal mark of 26min 58.38sec.

At 7,000m, as his only remaining challenger, the young Kenyan world cross-country champion, William Sigei, dropped away, Ondieki was eight seconds inside schedule for a sub-27 minute race. His rhythm to the finish line was as remorseless as it had been in Tokyo two years earlier, when he ran away from the rest of the World Championship 5,000m field with his strange, pattering stride.

Although he had covered the distance several times in road races, the staggering fact was that this was only his second 10,000m on the track. What made him think he could go so fast? 'I have run the 5,000 metres in 13.01,' he said. 'Why shouldn't I think I could do it?'

Despite warnings from some quarters that he was being too ambitious, Ondieki had asked the pacemakers to take him through 5,000m in a time between 13.25 and 13.30. They managed 13.28, and he was on course.

'Yobes didn't want to make all this effort just to run 27.20,' said Lisa, who won an Olympic marathon silver medal and two Commonwealth titles for Australia as Lisa Martin before marrying Ondieki in 1990. 'He was very nervous, but he always felt in control of the race, even when Sigei was making his surges,' she said.

Ondieki, who emerged on to the world stage in 1988 when he was 12th in the Olympic 5,000m, made headlines a year later when he became the first man to beat Said Aouita over 5,000m for 10 years.

His career took a dive with a fall in the 1990 Commonwealth Games final and he had an acrimonious split with his coach of the time, John Anderson. Victory in Tokyo was a brave vindication of his talent; having proved himself, Saturday's race was a bold exercise in expansion.

Ondieki has not completed his rise through the distances - he plans to turn eventually to the marathon, but this season will see him scale down his ambitions with a 3,000m in Nice and, probably, a 5,000m in Zurich.

Next month's World Championships do not appear to be in either his or his wife's plans; his relationship with the Kenyan athletics authorities has become increasingly strained over the years and he does not intend to run in this month's national trials.

None of that will detract from the memory of his last lap in Oslo. The bell, and the announcer's excited advice - 'Yobes, you only need a 70- second lap to beat 27 minutes]' The final straight - his arms pumping, his teeth bared. The line - arms up in triumph and the flickering digital clock stilled at 26 minutes and who cared about the seconds. 'I used to say to Yobes, 'You don't run like a Kenyan,' ' Lisa said. 'Now I just shut up.'

Just as Bannister found, however, once you have broken through a barrier there are others eager to swarm into the gap you have made. Khalid Skah, of Morocco, who had planned an attempt on the world 10,000m record himself in Oslo before Chelimo's achievement appeared to put him off, announced after his narrow defeat in the 5,000m that he intended to run 26min 55sec this season.

Richard Nerurkar's time of 27min 40.03sec to earn fourth place behind Ondieki was the fastest time by a Briton in five years. However, the most encouraging aspect of the Oslo meeting for Britain was the unexpected successes in the middle-distance events.

Kelly Holmes underlined her potential in the 800m by going under two minutes for the first time (1min 59.16sec), while in the men's 800m, Martin Steele, discovering the form of his life at the age of 30, won in 1min 43.84sec, the fastest time in the world this season.

Steve Cram, running wisely and bravely to take third place in the Dream Mile behind Noureddine Morceli, demonstrated to himself and everyone else that his experiment with the 5,000m is effectively over. And for all the Algerian's efforts, Cram's world mile record of 3min 46.32sec still stands.

----------------------------------------------------------------- 10,000M WORLD RECORDS ----------------------------------------------------------------- Date Name Time 1.11.53 E Zatopek (Cz) 29:01.6 1.6.54 Zatopek 28:54.2 15.7.56 S Iharos (Hung) 28:42.8 11.9.56 V Kuts (USSR) 28:30.4 15.10.60 P Bolotnikov (USSR) 28:18.8 11.8.62 Bolotnikov 28:18.2 18.12.63 R Clarke (Aus) 28:15.6 14.7.65 Clarke 27:39.4 3.9.72 L Viren (Fin) 27:38.4 13.7.73 D Bedford (GB) 27:30.8 30.6.77 S Kimobwa (Ken) 27:30.5 11.7.78 H Rono (Ken) 27:22.5 2.7.84 F Mamede (Por) 27:13.81 18.8.89 A Barrios (Mex) 27:08.23 5.7.93 R Chelimo (Ken) 27:07.91 10.7.93 Y Ondieki (Ken) 26:58.38 -----------------------------------------------------------------