Gebrselassie's golden view of the distance

Mike Rowbottom reflects on a season of highs and lows for world athletics
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The Independent Online
Daniela Bartova is still feverishly improving her world pole vault record - perhaps Sergei Bubka ought to put her right on the financial tactics of that particular event - but for the majority of the world's competitors, the athletics season is well and truly over.

And as the sound and fury of another summer dies away, next year already beckons with a prospect of greater riches - another $1m (pounds 650,000) of prize- money for the climactic grand prix final, and the greatest - indirect - money spinner of all, the Olympic Games.

The year will be remembered primarily as a stupendous year for middle- distance running, with two men - Noureddine Morceli of Algeria and Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia - dominating its upper and lower reaches.

Gebrselassie retained his world 10,000m title and also laid claim to the world record, lowering William Sigei's outstanding mark of 26min 52.23sec by nearly 10 seconds to 26:43.53.

Having seen his world 5,000m record beaten by Moses Kiptanui early in the season, the Ethiopian created even greater shock waves by taking nearly 11 seconds off the Kenyan's mark in Zurich, where he ran 12min 44.36sec, the largest margin of improvement in the event for over 60 years.

Kiptanui also made athletics history at the same meeting in becoming the first man to beat eight minutes for the 3,000m steeplechase.

For Britain, the overall picture has changed dramatically in the space of a year. No one would have predicted after last season's European Championships that all three of our world champions would fail to retain their titles in Gothenburg.

The strain has told in each case. Linford Christie and Colin Jackson both face operations to remove knee cartilages damaged by relentless training and competing. Sally Gunnell is currently on crutches having had a bursa removed from her heel. Her surgeon discovered that the cause of the inflammation was a roughening of the bone due to wear and tear.

There are mental as well as physical wounds to be healed here. Gunnell has had to come to terms with the first serious injury of her career, and the additional torment of seeing Kim Batten relieve her not just of her world 400m hurdles title, but her world record as well. The post-race interview which Gunnell was obliged to conduct with Batten while working for the BBC in Gothenburg was testing in an unusual sense.

Jackson is still hurt and resentful over the way the British Athletic Federation demanded that he demonstrate his fitness before the World Championships. He is also aware from the racing that he managed to do in a season blighted by illness and injury that the rest of the world's 110m hurdlers have moved on from 1994. He can no longer take his pre-eminence for granted.

That is also true of Christie, who finished a weary fifth over 100m in last weekend's IAAF grand prix final. He still maintains that he will not defend his Olympic title in Atlanta, although it is hard to see him resisting the challenge if he approaches the Games in anything like decent shape.

The belated pay agreement which Christie, Jackson and John Regis reached with the BAF was sufficiently uneasy to suggest that worse difficulties lie ahead next year.

No such problems intrude into the future for Britain's new world champion, Jonathan Edwards, or the woman who took silver and bronze at 800 and 1500m in Gothenburg, Kelly Holmes. Britain's athletics authorities can turn to this pair with a light heart, as they promise to fill any gap at the top of the domestic sport as it moves towards the millennium.