Best make their mark with record spree

Mike Rowbottom looks back on an extraordinary evening in Zurich where the statisticians had a field day
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The Independent Online
Long after Wednesday's Weltklasse meeting had finished, the Letzigrund Stadium - emptied of 20,000 people - bore a single testimony to the extraordinary events of preceding hours.

The digital clock by the finish line remained fixed on the 5,000 metres time Haile Gebrselassie had recorded in setting the third world record of the night - 12min 41.86sec. The more one looked at it, the more improbable it appeared.

Zurich had witnessed history in the breaking - never before had this flagship of a grand prix meeting produced more than two world records at a time. The only comparable occurrence in recent times came 12 years ago in Oslo, when Steve Cram, Said Aouita and Ingrid Kristiansen set new marks in the mile, 5,000 and 10,000m respectively.

The names of Gebrselassie, Wilson Kipketer and Wilson Boit Kipketer - Wednesday's record breakers in the 5,000m, 800m and 3,000m steeplechase - will be forever linked by virtue of their collective performance on a muggy Swiss evening.

"Everything was perfect - the weather, pace and crowd," said Wilson Kipketer after surpassing the oldest major record in the book, Seb Coe's 16-year- old 800m mark of 1:41.73, with a time of 1:41.24.

Of the three, he was the only one whose race was against the clock, and after he had been paced through 400 metres in 48.10sec - a second faster than Coe had travelled in setting his record in Florence in 1981.

Recalling the moment when the pacemaker dropped away from him during that run, Coe said: "The response of the crowd at that moment is like nothing else. In a stadium such as Oslo, Brussels, Zurich or Crystal Palace, they know the situation, what you're going for, and the reaction coming out of the darkness is a magic moment, a surging push in the back.''

So it was for the naturalised Dane as he advanced on gazelle legs towards the prize he has had in mind for two years - and the additional world record bonus of $50,000 (pounds 33,000) and a 1kg gold ingot.

Zurich, with an annual budget of pounds 2.5m, can afford the best. When the best perform, they get a reception which very few other venues match. The acoustics of the stadium are such that the air seems to buzz with noise, most particularly on the terracing within the V-shaped stand beyond the finish line - athletics' version of the Kop.

Wilson Boit, who lowered the steeplechase mark to 7:59.08, had company until the last 30 metres, when he broke clear of two fellow Kenyans, Bernard Barmasi and the man who had set the world record on the same track two years earlier, Moses Kiptanui.

Gebrselassie did his damage over the final 200 metres to shake off the challenge of the 5000m world champion, Daniel Komen.

The Kenyan, who finished with a Commonwealth record of 12:44.90, confirmed yesterday that he will race over 1500m at Gateshead on 7 September.

He will be joined by fellow Kenyans Kiptanui, who will run in the steeplechase, and the world 10,000m champion, Sally Barsosio, who is down for the 3,000m.

Coe was not the only Briton to lose a record on the night. In finishing second to Hicham El Guerrouj in the 1500m with a time of 3:28.95, Fermin Cacho of Spain beat Steve Cram's European mark of 3:29.67, set as a world record in 1985.

Dave Moorcroft, chief executive elect of the British Athletic Federation, also lost his European record of 13:00.41 in the 5,000m, where Dieter Baumann of Germany, in fifth place, recorded 12:54.70.

To round off a night for statisticians to cherish, there were also two world junior records for Kenyan athletes - Noah Ngeny, with 3:34.54 in the 1500m, and Japheth Kimutai, just 16, who ran 800m in 1:43.64.