Kipketer destroys 800 metres record: Athletics

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The Independent Online
Wilson Kipketer generated delight and disbelief in equal measure at the world indoor championships here yesterday by taking nearly a second off the world 800 metres record in his opening heat, stopping the clock at 1min 43.96sec.

He revealed he had only decided to go for the record - which carried an automatic bonus of $50,000 (pounds 31,000) - after running the first of his four laps.

Surprise, rather than disbelief, was the predominant emotion aroused by the two 60 metres finals which followed. First Russia's Irina Privalova pulled up injured within sight of victory to give the gold to Gail Devers of the United States; then Haralambos Papadias of Greece became the first white male to win a global 60 or 100 metres championship since Allan Wells took the Olympic title in 1980.

Kipketer, born in Kenya but now running for his adopted country of Denmark, had only decided to enter these championships last month, and when he took to the track for yesterday's heat he had no plan to make an immediate attack on Paul Ereng's eight-year-old mark of 1min 44.84sec.

All that changed as he glanced up at the huge screen after his first 200 metres on the Palais-Omnisports track and noticed his split time of 25 seconds.

"When I saw that, and nobody was following me, I thought - OK, I have to go for it," Kipketer said.

Should he run faster in today's semi-final or tomorrow's final, he would not receive further bonus awards. But, unless anyone else runs faster this weekend, he has already assured himself of a first instalment which looks certain to be matched by a further 50,000 dollars for winning the event.

"It is good to eliminate problems," he said with a broad grin. "Now I have only one thing to think about, that is winning the gold medal. One problem at a time."

Kipketer, who was unable to run in the Olympics last year because his new nationality had not been established for long enough to qualify, ran yesterday with graceful ease, taking an immediate lead and drawing smoothly away from the labouring mortals behind him. It was the first time a world record had been beaten in the first round of an individual event at any world championships.

Asked if he was surprised to have taken such a large amount off the record Ereng had set at the 1989 world indoor championships in Budapest, Kipketer replied, with another broad grin: "I didn't know I was going to break the world record, so yes, I was surprised. But I was also not surprised because I have been training in the United States for two months with my coach, Mike Boit, and I knew I was in very good shape."

Papadias is also, patently, in very good shape, which will please the Greeks as they prepare to host this summer's outdoor world championships. He won in 6.50sec, 0.01sec ahead of Jamaica's Michael Green.

Up in the stand, commenting for the BBC TV team, was a man who might have contested the medal - Linford Christie, who has already run 6.51 this season but has ruled himself out of running any "majors."

The two Britons selected, Jason Livingston and Jason Gardener, failed to make the final. Gardener ran a creditable 6.56 to reach the semi-final, but Livingston - back in the British team after a four-year doping ban - could only manage 6.70, not enough to take him beyond the first round.

Privalova, the world indoor record holder for 60m, limped from the track in tears after pulling up 20 metres from the line and clutching the back of her right knee. Devers, who had only made the final by one thousandth of a second, won the title for the second time in 7.06sec.

Ashia Hansen and Jamie Baulch, both of whom came to grief in their last appearances at the Palais-Omnisports three years ago, took confident strides towards their relative finals here.

Hansen, back in the team on appeal after being left out originally because she had missed the trials, qualified for tomrrow's triple jump final at her first attempt with a distance of 14.24 metres.

That ended an unfortunate sequence in indoor championships which began here in 1994 when she failed to qualify. She did the same at the 1995 world indoors, and failed to register a mark at last year's European indoors.

Baulch, running with the tactical assurance that he lacked at the European indoor championships here in 1994, when he tripped and fell in the final, won his opening heat in 46.52sec.

The 23-year-old Welshman - who will be joined in today's semi-finals by Mark Hylton - was uneasy before his race. "I was thinking, 'Oh God, here we are again. This is the track.' "

Happily for him he came through. Happily for his family, too. A party of eight are due to arrive to watch him today - mother, father, two aunts, two uncles, his girlfriend Susannah and 18-month-old son, Jay.

Slaney's return, page 27

Results, page 31