OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Athletics: McKean and Murray suffer day of misery

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The Independent Online
BARCELONA held as much charm as Flodden Field for Scotland yesterday as, in the smothering heat of the Montjuc stadium, their hopes of success, in the form of Yvonne Murray and Tom McKean, were stifled.

The nature of their defeats - in the 3,000 metres final and 800 semi-final respectively, was sadly familiar, putting one in mind of history repeating itself as farce. But to see their blank, miserable faces afterwards was to realise that there was nothing remotely funny about it. A terrible day for them and their coach, Tommy Boyle.

As in last year's world championships in the equally stifling conditions of Tokyo, Murray ended a broken and despairing figure on the track after being hunted by a faster moving pack. By the time the field reached 2,000m, the clock showed 6min 01.52sec and it was clear that Murray, who for all her diligent work at sprinting over the last four years is not in position to rely upon her finish, needed to do something decisive. She made her move with 550m left, just as she had in Tokyo, pulled away for a second, and then the gap closed as Yelena Romanova led the field back up to her shoulder.

At the bell, Sonia O'Sullivan, striving to become the first Irish woman to win an Olympic track medal, moved up to challenge, and as the back straight turned into the final bend, Murray slipped backwards as a queue of potential medallists went past. Romanova was the strongest, holding off her fellow member of the Unified Team, Tatyana Dorovskikh in a sprint for the line to win in 8:46.04. O'Sullivan was beaten to third place by Angela Chalmers, of Canada.

Murray finished eighth in 8:55.85, two places better than she had managed in Tokyo. Before leaving a stadium which had transformed itself into a house of horror, she reflected briefly on what had failed to happen: 'I'm so disappointed,' she said. 'The pace was slow but when I tried to break there was nothing there. When the others went past me I just couldn't respond.'

McKean's performance was reminscent of other runs he has produced at major championships, most notably the world championships of 1987 and the Olympics the following year. He got blocked, barged, boxed and finally spiked as he struggled to get into a challenging position. After the last collision, with 150m to go, he lost his rhythm entirely and trailed in fifth. He was a lost figure as he stood, sweat beading off him, trying to make any sense of what had happened to him. 'I was trapped in the middle,' he said. 'I just couldn't get out. I was caught.' There hardly seemed anything to say.

In a contrast which will not do McKean's battered ego any good, the 20-year-old Liverpudlian who has challenged his domestic supremacy this season, Curtis Robb, looked the part as he reached Wednesday's final in what is his first major international championship, never mind Olympic Games.

Robb beat a field including Jose Luis Barbosa, the world silver medallist, and the defending champion Paul Ereng, who failed to qualify, with a characteristically bold run, overtaking runners on the top bend as routinely as if he were on a motorway to go into the final as the fastest qualifier with a time of 1:45.25.

'I think the 800 is wide open,' he said. 'Anyone can win gold.'

Robb's Liverpool Harriers team-mate Steve Smith also provided encouragement for the future of British athletics as, at the age of 19, he contested the Olympic high jump final with honour and guts - failing by the brush of a heel to clear 2.34 after failing twice at a his personal best height of 2.31 in a competition won by Javier Sotomayor of Cuba in 2.39.

Elsewhere, Jackie Joyner- Kersee, who pulled a hamstring in the world championships, reasserted her position as the world's best all-round woman athlete by winning the heptathlon.

The second round of the 400 produced another uncomfortable run from Roger Black, clearly not happy with life at the moment; another smoothly promising performance from Derek Redmond, as he eased down to win in 45.02, bettering by 0.01 his time on the previous day, which was the fastest he had run in four years. And a giant leap forward for David Grindley, 19, the second youngest member of the British party, who became only the fourth Briton to run the event in under 45 seconds, placing himself in the company of Black, Redmond and the 1971 European champion, David Jenkins.

In fact Grindley's time of 44.91 as he finished strongly behind the heat winner, Ian Morris of Trinidad, was faster than Jenkins ever managed. The young man from Wigan, seemed quite dazed by it all. 'I can't believe it,' he said. 'I've wanted to run under 45 seconds for two years. Now I've done it I'm so pleased I can't explain it.'

The idea that he might have taken too much out of himself before today's semi-finals was not something he gave much house room too. As a former rugby league lock forward, he has plenty of strength in reserve.

Jackson's first-round time in the morning of 13.10 - slowing down to a virtual jog after the last hurdle - was a hard act to follow without getting into an area where too much energy was being expended. Predictably, perhaps, with the words of his coach Malcom Arnold in his mind - 'qualify, qualify, qualify' - he bumped three hurdles, one of them almost calamitously hard.

'You're supposed to jump the hurdles, not eat them,' volunteered his house-mate and clearly friendly rival, Mark McKoy, who looked one of the best of Jackson's opponents to go into today's semi-finals, along with the Americans Tony Dees and Jack Pierce and Britain's Tony Jarrett.

'One of them nearly broke my toe,' Jackson said, with a grin. He was only joking.

(Photograph omitted)