OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Athletics: Kenyan outcry over Skah's reinstatement

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KENYA made a veiled threat yesterday that they might pull out of the Olympics if the reinstatement of Khalid Skah as the men's 10,000 metres gold medallist was not overturned.

Skah outsprinted Richard Chelimo, of Kenya, over the final 150 metres of Monday's final, but the race jury ruled that he had been illegally helped by a lapped Moroccan runner, Hammou Boutayeb. Yesterday morning, however, a Moroccan appeal was upheld when the arbitration panel of the International Amateur Athletic Federation's jury of appeal, having studied film of the race and consulted the race referee, ruled that there were insufficient grounds to disqualify Skah.

That has provoked a further protest to the jury of appeal from Kenya, whose chef de mission, Isiah Kiplagat, wrote: 'Should this decision . . . not be reversed, the credibility of the entire future of middle and long distance running worldwide is in jeopardy. Consequently we reserve the right to take whatever other action our delegation may deem necessary.'

Asked if this might entail a track and field boycott, Kiplagat replied: 'If we felt that we're not getting a fair judgement the possibility would be there . . . but we're not saying that at the moment.'

Kiplagat said earlier that he expected an answer from the IAAF president, Primo Nebiolo, although the IAAF has said that, under its rules, the decision of the appeal jury is final.

The to-ing and fro-ing had better end soon, or today's 10,000m medal ceremony could resemble a game of pass the parcel. Whatever happens, it is likely to be a highly embarrassing occasion - whether or not all the runners turn up.

A controversy that was always likely to leave either Morocco or Kenya out of sorts began when the two leaders overtook Boutayeb with three laps to go. Boutayeb appeared to converse with Skah, running at the Kenyan's shoulder, before overtaking both men and settling back in front of Chelimo, who claimed this was a deliberate attempt to slow him down. After the IAAF's tecnhical delegate, Carl Gustave Tollemar, had attempted to haul him away with 450 metres left, Boutayeb ran off the track in the last lap. His team- mate won a ferocious sprint from 150 metres out, having brushed Chelimo aside on the last bend.

Skah undoubtedly claimed the title of of the most unpopular Olympic champion in history as he ran the last three laps to a background of shrill whistles from a scandalised crowd of 63,525 people, almost appearing to delight in their disapproval as he cavorted on a lap of honour with Boutayeb, kissing and brandishing their national flag. They looked for all the world like two pantomime villains.

There was a natural tendency to side with the tiny figure of Chelimo, especially when he found himself running as the meat in a Moroccan sandwich, but the Kenyans are not exactly novices at using teamwork to their advantage in races. Earlier in the race, indeed, Salvatore Antibo was left shaking his fist at Kenyan runners after a close encounter of the painful kind.

Certainly Skah was rough on the final bend - but it was nothing worse than Steve Ovett produced to jostle through and win a gold in the 1980 Moscow Olympic 800m final.

Skah has twice run a gauntlet of Kenyan opposition to win the world cross-country title. He has had to be tough to do that; on Monday night he was prepared to get tough again. But even Chelimo conceded that the incident with Boutayeb might not have made any difference to the result. Skah was the epitome of the committed runner, and to have denied him the gold after that last, primitive charge would have been to deny natural justice. Middle-distance running is not for milksops.

Skah told French television yesterday: 'I am delighted and very happy. I think this decision is right and logical because I was the fastest. I deserved to win.

'I told Boutayeb to get out. I spoke to him in Arabic because he could not understand French. But Boutayeb just refused to be lapped. It was a matter of honour to him. He is one of the best in the world.'

The Moroccan director of coaching, Lahcen Samsane, added his weight to the argument that there was no conspiracy to put Chelimo off.

'Nothing was planned,' he said. 'Boutayeb simply could not accept the idea of being lapped in an Olympic final being watched by millions of people in Morocco.' Samsane denies the theory that Boutayeb deliberately held up Chelimo for the last two laps to allow Skah - whose name in Arabic means Runaway - to rest before using his superior finishing speed.

'That is not true,' he said. 'First, Skah did not need any help. Second, you cannot plan anything like that because you do not know how a race is going to develop and third, unfortunately for our country, Moroccan runners have never raced as a team like the Kenyans.'

Moroccan athletes tend to be split into three clans grouped around Said Aouita, the 1,500m world record holder prevented by injury from competing here; Brahim Boutayeb, the previous Olympic 10,000m champion; and Skah.

Hammou Boutayeb, a 35-year- old private in the Moroccan army, is known as something of an eccentric runner. Three years ago in Oslo, he was punched by Antibo when the Italian thought he was deliberately impeding him in his attempt on the world 10,000m record.

Antibo, who finished fourth in Monday's race, was gracious in his acceptance of the bronze medal once Skah had been disqualified: 'The real winners were Skah, Chelimo and Abebe, and this medal is in a way a present, but I accept it readily.' Let us hope he concedes it as readily.

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