Athletics: Determined El Guerrouj takes fourth world title

World Championships: Moroccan holds off home challenge while Rawlinson jumps into history
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The Independent Online

Hicham El Guerrouj yesterday underlined his continuing dominance of the 1500 metres event last night as he held off a fierce challenge from France's European champion Mehdi Baala to win his fourth consecutive world title.

A capacity crowd of 56,928 gave thunderous support to the home runner as he strained to stay in touch with the Moroccan down the finishing straight, but the 28-year-old defending champion, who had taken the lead with two laps remaining, came home in 3min 31.77sec, with Baala taking silver in 3.32.31.

El Guerrouj's steely control of the race was an indication of his determination to resist the fate of multiple world title winner Haile Gebrselassie, whose quest for a fifth 10,000m gold here was ended by fellow Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele. The Moroccan has lost just three races at either 1500m or a mile since the beginning of 1996 ­ although two were Olympic finals. Last night provided him with another consolation for those enduring disappointments.

"I was so excited about this race, I have not been able to sleep for five days now," El Guerrouj said. "I think this might be the happiest day of my life."

Chris Tomlinson last night became the first British long jumper to reach a World Championship final, a feat he achieved with his opening effort of 8.16m ­ his best mark for 15 months and a centimetre beyond the automatic qualifying distance.

Despite surpassing Lynn Davies's 34-year-old British record in April last year with a jump of 8.27, Tomlinson has struggled to maintain consistent form.

The 22-year-old revealed afterwards that his relatively miserable year so far has been exacerbated by a hamstring problem since early last month. It left his confidence so low that he had made plans to sightsee when tomorrow's final takes place. Now Tomlinson, 6ft 6in of only partially-realised potential, has other matters to attend to as he finds himself in a major final as the second best qualifier behind Spain's Yago Lamela.

"I just went out there and things came together," Tomlinson said. "I have been injured and have tried to compete with it, which is so hard. People don't know what has been going on injury-wise behind the scenes. Touch wood it is behind me now. I have just had two weeks of really good training."

Fellow Briton Nathan Morgan, who jumped 8.26 last month, failed to join Tomlinson, managing a best of only 7.83. Cuba's Ivan Pedroso, seeking a fifth consecutive title, also went out with a foot injury.

Mexico's Ann Guevara, favourite for the 400m, lived up to her billing by taking gold with a personal best 48.89sec, eighth fastest of all time, in a race where Britain's Lee McConnell finished seventh in 51.07.

Chris Rawlinson reached tomorrow's 400m hurdles final as he finished second to defending champion Felix Sanchez, recording 48.56 to the Dominican Republic athlete's 48.16.

The 200m quarter-finals saw an unhappy exit for Julian Golding, winner of the AAA trials after two years of problems with illness and injury. The 28-year-old former Commonwealth champion finished eighth and last in his heat in a time of 20.79sec ­ nearly half a second slower than he ran in Birmingham last month. Christian Malcolm, and 100m bronze medallist Darren Campbell ­ who ran a season's best of 20.35 ­ both progressed.

Meanwhile USA Track and Field, directed to take disciplinary action earlier in the week against Jon Drummond for his protest at being disqualified from the 100m, were also taking on board two further unwelcome pieces of information.

The first concerned their world 100m record holder Tim Montgomery, a disappointing fifth in Monday's final, who has left the Championships and returned home, further weakening the US relay team following the injury to Maurice Greene and Drummond's withdrawal.

The second concerned yesterday's revelation that Jerome Young, who received his 400m gold medal last night, tested positive for the banned steroid nandrolone in 1999 but was allowed to run in the 400m relay at Sydney Olympics, where he won a gold medal, after being cleared on an internal appeal.