Athletics / World Athletics Championships: Frustration for Robb as Ruto runs rivals ragged: Briton fourth in 800 metres while Johnson is the class act in a quality 400 metres field

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THE prospect of Britain taking their third medal of these World Championship evaporated 30 metres from the line in last night's 800 metres final as Curtis Robb was overtaken by a fast-finishing phenomenon named Billy Konchellah, who thus earned bronze behind his fellow Kenyan, Paul Ruto, the leader from start to finish. For Robb, who had felt so confident after qualifying in a personal best time of 1min 44.92sec, it was a case of what might have been had he performed to his potential.

For the Olympic 400m champion, Quincy Watts, it was a case of what might have been had one of his running shoes not fallen apart in the home straight of a final won in 43.65sec, the third fastest time ever, by his American colleague, Michael Johnson.

Watts was not in the form to challenge that kind of a performance, but his realistic hopes of a bronze were hardly encouraged when the sole of his shoe began to come away. After finishing fourth in 45.05sec he presented the evidence to an embarrassed representative of his sponsoring American footwear company, Nike, who disposed of the remains. Hardly an ideal advertisement.

The suggestion made afterwards to Robb that he had done well to finish fourth was kindly meant, but it received short shrift. 'Yeah, well,' said Robb sceptically. 'Fourth is not that much. I'm disappointed. I thought I was capable of a lot better. I was in shape to do a level 1.44 but it just didn't come off.'

The 21-year-old Olympic finalist, who at one stage this season looked unlikely to be fit for the championships because of a post-viral syndrome, was well placed to challenge throughout, but just as it seemed he had done enough for the bronze, Konchellah came through.

Ruto, a 23-year-old who had only reached the final as one of the two fastest losers in the semi-final, produced a feat of front-running to rival that of his Kenyan colleague Ismail Kirui on winning the previous day's 5,000m.

Although he had beaten Konchellah and the other Kenyan in the race, Olympic champion William Tanui, at the national trials, general opinion favoured their greater experience. But Ruto led from the moment the runners broke from their lanes to the finishing line, which he crossed in 1min 44.71sec, with Giuseppe D'Urso of Italy on his heels.

Had the finish line been five metres further on, Konchellah, whose career has been seriously disrupted by malaria and asthma, would have had his third consecutive world title.

Tom McKean, who finished last in 1.46.17, remonstrated afterwards with Hezekiel Sepeng of South Africa, accusing him of hitting him 60 metres out. But the Scotsman was not kidding himself that the incident had cost him a chance of a medal. 'I wouldn't have finished any higher than fifth,' he said. 'It was a bonus for me to get to the final.'

The final of the women's 800m became dramatically resolved in the space of 20 metres with 200 metres remaining as Maria Mutola, of Mozambique, and Russia's Lyubov Gurina charged to the front.

The whole race was suddenly convulsed, and at the back, Mutola's cousin, Tina Paulino, tripped, bringing down China's Li Liu and Russia's Liliya Nurutdinova. Mutola won from Gurina in 1:55.44; Diane Modahl, running wisely throughout, was fourth in 1:59.42.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee added the world heptathlon title to her Olympic title, but home competitor Sabine Braun made her work harder for victory than she ever had before.

The German, who won the world title in Tokyo after Joyner-Kersee injured herself in the 200m, event, went into the last of the seven disciplines, the 800m, with a seven-point lead worth 0.5sec. But the American finished 20 metres ahead of her to achieve a total of 6,837 points, 40 points clear.

'I've never been in such a tough situation as this,' Joyner-Kersee said. 'I would never have believed that I could have such a bad first day. I made some bad mistakes. I'm glad its over. It was too bad that one of us had to lose.'

Sally Gunnell reached tomorrow's 400m hurdles final with an untroubled semi-final victory in 53.95sec. 'I wanted to run under 54 seconds to be sure of a good lane draw,' she said afterwards. 'I didn't use my normal stride pattern tonight. That will come in the final.' There she will face all the expected opposition, of whom Margarita Ponomaryova and Sandra Farmer-Patrick, winners of the other two heats in 53.71 and 53.88, look the most competitive.

In the men's 400m hurdles, Gary Cadogan, who had set a personal best of 49.25sec in qualifying for the semi- finals, betrayed his inexperience in an event he took up only this season as he faltered badly at the penultimate hurdle and finished out of the running in 49.59.

Jonathan Edwards, who delayed his flight back home to see his wife and week-old son in Newcastle in order to receive his triple jump bronze medal yesterday, has set himself the target of breaking Keith Connor's 11-year-old British record of 17.57 metres this season. He will make his first attempt at Sheffield on 29 August.

Gail Devers, whose victory in the 100m on Monday night drew a protest on behalf of Merlene Ottey, of Jamaica, yesterday had her time rounded up to 10.82sec, the same as Ottey's. After re-examining the photo finish image, officials amended Devers' original time of 10.81, but upheld the result, claiming that the Seiko timing system was capable of differentiating times to within 0.001sec.

Natural justice - and the image itself - demanded that the race be called a dead heat. If it was possible to award Mike McFarlane and Allan Wells a gold medal each after the 1982 Commonwealth Games 200m, why not here?

'The jury's decision doesn't mean anything to me,' Ottey said yesterday. 'I'm the champion.' She was the people's champion, too, at the delayed award ceremony, where she was given tumultuous and prolonged applause, which far outweighed the polite ripple which accompanied Devers' presentation. As an expression of public opinion, it matched the ovation given to Richard Chelimo last year as he received his Olympic 10,000m silver medal after a race where many believed the winner, Khalid Skah, had drawn unfair advantage from a lapped Moroccan team-mate who had baulked the Kenyan.

Eventually, her grave expression gave way to a smile of surprise, and she answered the applause in like kind. But her feelings about the way she had been treated were clear enough as she stepped off the podium: she took her silver medal straight off. Motivation for the 200m - where she won her second-round heat in 22.81sec yesterday - should not prove a problem.

David Grindley's calf injury has forced him to pull out of Briain's 4 x 400m relay squad and he will fly home today.

Results, page 31

(Photograph omitted)