Athletics: El Guerrouj rediscovers Athens form

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The Independent Online
Hicham El Guerrouj's faltering Olympic ambitions were restored here at the Lausanne Super Grand Prix meeting last night as he recovered from his shock defeat in Rome four days earlier - when he claimed his form was undermined by a medical condition which was putting his participation in Athens next month in jeopardy - and returned to winning ways with a time of 3min 32.20sec.

Hicham El Guerrouj's faltering Olympic ambitions were restored here at the Lausanne Super Grand Prix meeting last night as he recovered from his shock defeat in Rome four days earlier ­ when he claimed his form was undermined by a medical condition which was putting his participation in Athens next month in jeopardy ­ and returned to winning ways with a time of 3min 32.20sec.

Morocco's world mile and 1500 metres record-holder, who has been struggling all year with an allergy problem, said before his race that he would make a final decision on whether to compete in the Olympics at the Zurich meeting on 6 August. But he will have been heartened by this performance, even though he did slow over the final 300 metres before finishing narrowly clear of Kenya's Isaac Songok, who finished in 3:32.22.

El Guerrouj suffered his first defeat since coming second in the 2000 Sydney Olympics when Rashid Ramzi beat him last Friday. Ramzi, a former training partner of El Guerrouj who now represents Bahrain, pulled out of last night's meeting, as did Ethiopia's world 5,000m and 10,000m record-holder, Kenenisa Bekele, who has an Achilles tendon problem.

The world 400m hurdles champion, Felix Sanchez, has warned the British No 1 Chris Rawlinson that he will have to beat the British 400m hurdles record if he wants to win the Olympic title. Sanchez threw down the challenge with a scorching success in last night's Athletissima 2004 meeting, winning in the fastest time in the world this year, 47.86sec.

"I don't know what other competitors are doing in their training, or what their goals are as far as their timings. But I'm confident if I run faster than 47.25sec, I think the gold medal is signed, sealed and delivered," said Sanchez.

Rawlinson's fastest-ever time is 48.14sec, while Kriss Akabusi lowered the British record to 47.82sec when winning the Olympic bronze medal in Barcelona 12 years ago.

Sanchez admits that the Commonwealth champion has irritated him in the last few weeks by insisting he is the man who will smash the world No 1's three-year unbeaten run. "For someone who has yet to beat me, I don't think he is showing me the respect I deserve," he said.

Rawlinson showed his best form for five years on Sunday night when he clinched a convincing victory in Crete with the second-fastest time in his career, 48.19sec.

Asafa Powell served further notice of his Olympic ambitions in Lausanne last night as he produced the fastest 100m run on European soil this season, winning in 10.00sec.

Powell, who last week broke the 13-year-old Jamaican record of Ray Stewart at his National Championships with a time of 9.91, accelerated in the final 20 metres to finish clear of Francis Obikwelu, Portugal's naturalised Nigerian, who was second in 10.02sec.

The Jamaican now has three of the top six 100m times this season, with only one man timed faster ­ Shawn Crawford of the United States, whose mark of 9.88 on 19 June leads this year's world rankings.

While Powell's prospects in Athens are looking increasingly good, the man who has run the 100m faster than anyone else, the world record-holder Tim Montgomery, is preparing to compete in the US Olympic trials which begin in Sacramento on Friday despite the fact that he is facing a lifetime ban for doping abuse. Four other athletes facing doping charges are also intending to take part in the trials ­ Chryste Gaines, Alvin Harrison, Michele Collins and Regina Jacobs.

There was another season's best performance in the 110m hurdles, where Allen Johnson won in 13.05sec.

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