OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Cacho turns fervour into frenzy: Mike Rowbottom on a night to remember in athletics as Spain's star rises to occasion

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The Independent Online
WHILE the United States maintained their traditional domination in the 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 metres relays on Saturday night, the Africans, who made a clean sweep of the middle-distance events at the last Olympics, saw two of their key positions retaken by Europe.

The 1500 and the 5,000m, at which the Kenyans Peter Rono and John Ngugi prevailed in Seoul, were won by a Spaniard and a German, who sprinted home in each case off a pace set up by Kenyan runners.

In the 1500, the home athlete Fermin Cacho earned himself an unscheduled trip up to the royal box to greet his beaming king, Juan Carlos, after he had tracked Joseph Chesire for the larger part of the race before passing him on the final bend.

As Cacho made his last effort, the level of sound generated by the 65,000 souls in the stadium seemed to sweep him forwards like a big wave.

Later that night, Spain's timely hero appeared on the television chat shows, wearing his track suit and medal just in case anybody did not know who he was.

With the outstanding world champion from last year, Noureddine Morceli, diminished by a hip injury, the 1500 was far more open than it had been for many years. In the absence of a clear favourite, Cacho cashed in.

Dieter Baumann's best chance of beating the Africans in the 5,000m was always likely to be the tactic of hanging on to those making the early surges and then using the speed which has made him the ninth fastest 1500m runner this year with a time of 3min 34.18sec.

Going down the back straight for the last time, after Yobes Ondieki's effort at getting away from the field had failed, Baumann was safely in the leading group of five. It should have been the ideal position for him - but he was boxed, with Fita Bayissa of Ethiopia in front, Brahim Boutayeb of Morocco dogging his heels, and Ondieki blocking any exit sideways into lane two.

But the necessary space arrived when the leader, Kenya's Paul Bitok, made his decision to sprint for home. All strategy was jettisoned; the race became about four men running like mad things as Boutayeb, Bayissa and Baumann all responded.

The German, fourth coming into the final straight, passed Boutayeb, came inside Bayissa, who was running in lane two, and then wove outside an astonished Bitok to earn one of the great victories of the Games.

The United States' world record performances in the men's relays seemed fated. In the 4 x 100, the injury to Mark Witherspoon in the individual semi-final made it politically simpler for the world champion Carl Lewis, who was only second reserve having finished sixth in the US trials, to be called in. His outstanding final leg made the difference as the Americans' world record of last year, 37.50sec, was reduced by a full tenth of a second.

Similarly in the 4 x 400m, an injury to Danny Everett, most vocal critic of the decision to give Michael Johnson a place in the squad even though he had not run the 400m at the trials, made a contentious situation easier. Johnson, the world 200m champion, ran, and the 24-year-old world record set in Mexico City's thin air vanished.

Britain's bronze in the men's 4 x 400 was something of a let down; as Roger Black said afterwards, they had expected silver, but the bronze won by Britain's women over the same distance, with an anchor leg by the 400m hurdles gold medallist Sally Gunnell, had an entirely different feel to it. 'We deserved that medal,' Gunnell said. 'We ran our socks off.'

Steve Backley's bronze in the javelin was almost a poignant achievement. Throwing with a heavily strapped right elbow, the European champion was clearly in pain, and when Jan Zelezny, the Czechoslovak who deprived him of the world record last month, threw beyond 89m at his first attempt, the event was virtually over as a contest.

Backley could not bear to watch the last Olympics on television because he wanted to compete there; he will not find the Olympics of Barcelona easier viewing.

(Photograph omitted)