Athletics: Ceplak rushes to season's best

Jolanda Ceplak announced her Olympic ambitions at the Rome Golden Gala meeting last night by setting the world's fastest time this year for 800 metres. Slovenia's 2002 European champion hit the front on the back straight and held off a late challenge by Russia's Svetlana Cherkasova to cross the line in 1min 57.68sec.

Jolanda Ceplak announced her Olympic ambitions at the Rome Golden Gala meeting last night by setting the world's fastest time this year for 800 metres. Slovenia's 2002 European champion hit the front on the back straight and held off a late challenge by Russia's Svetlana Cherkasova to cross the line in 1min 57.68sec.

Her time was four-hundredths of a second faster than the previous season's best set by the Olympic champion, Maria Mutola, and will provide an awesome marker for Britain's Olympic bronze medallist Kelly Holmes tonight as she runs her first outdoor 800m race of the season at the San Sebastian meeting.

Ceplak was not the only middle-distance athlete to take advantage of the still conditions in the Olympic stadium. Kenya's William Yampoi won the men's 800m B race in 1min 44.29sec, shaving one-hundredth off the season's best set by Spain's Antonio Manuel Reina last month.

Holmes' race in Spain is an important part of her campaign to gain Olympic selection at both 800 and 1500m. The 34-year-old Kent athlete had a comfortable 1500m win in last Sunday's British Grand Prix but believes she needs a few 800m races to sharpen herself up.

In San Sebastian, Holmes, last year's world 800m silver medallist, faces the former world indoor 1500m champion Hasna Benhassi, a Moroccan opponent who could help her beat the Olympic qualifying standard of exactly two minutes given that she recently ran 1min 59.87sec.

The former world mile record holder, Steve Cram, has said he sees nothing wrong in Michael East attempting to double up over 800m and 1500m at the Olympic Games. But Cram, who with Peter Elliott was the last British athlete to tackle the heavy, double programme at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, believes the option is now tougher.

"The 800m is a much more specialised event now than it was in my day," Cram said. "I think there are already more than a dozen runners under 1min 45sec this year. It is a difficult one to call, but with the 800m coming after the 1500m, if he feels he can take the programme on, why not?"

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