Crowd jeer dawdling athletes

The crowd knew they were about to see something out of the ordinary when the stadium announcer introduced the field for yesterday's men's 5,000 metres final at the Goodwill Games here.

The crowd knew they were about to see something out of the ordinary when the stadium announcer introduced the field for yesterday's men's 5,000 metres final at the Goodwill Games here.

The crowd were already abuzz after watching the Russian Olimpiada Ivanova walk around the track 50 times in setting a 20km world record, but it was the men's 5,000m they had come to see. Though there were only seven in the race, all were top Africans – five Kenyans and two Ethiopians. The Olympic champion Million Wolde, of Ethiopia, and Kenya's world champion, Richard Limo, were among the select field.

Sadly for the spectators, the extraordinary sight was not what they had anticipated. Instead of 12 and a half laps run at blistering speed, they witnessed one of the slowest 5,000m races ever.

The athletes dawdled around the track, hardly breaking sweat. When Haile Gebrselassie's world record time of 12 minutes 39.36sec elapsed, the runners still had more than three laps to go.

The crowd began to boo and jeer the runners so much that the announcers played music to encourage them to start clapping louder and faster as the race climaxed.

The runners did finally pick up the tempo for the last lap but it was too late for the disgruntled onlookers. The winner was Paul Bitok, of Kenya, in a time of 15:26.10, which was not only way off Gebrselassie's world record, but also way behind some lesser known standards.

The top five finishers in Tuesday's women's final all went quicker and Bitok's winning time was more than a minute outside the world's best time for 13-year-old boys and 47 seconds off the junior girl's record.

Asked to explain the snail's pace, the runners all pleaded ignorance, claiming it was a tactical race.

Watching was Britain's former Olympic champion and world record holder, Sebastian Coe. "It was run at schoolboy pace. I was hoping that the walking judges might call someone for lifting," he said.

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