One stride short of millions

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The Independent Online
Haile Gebrselassie looked a million dollars, or at least he nearly did. By precisely 1.09 seconds he missed the $1m gravy train on offer for running two miles in under eight minutes.

But his sublime natural gifts, such as the scorching speed with which he had just burned the rubber of lane one at the Fanny Blankers-Koen Stadium, leave him well-placed to win that $1m in the future.

"I am happy," he said. "Money is not important." Not when you can run a race, as Gebrselassie did in this Dutch backwater town on Saturday, that would have left Said Aouita, Steve Ovett and Lasse Viren adrift by 12 seconds and more - virtually the length of the home straight.

The digits 8:01:08 were still frozen on the trackside clock in the empty stadium as Gebrselassie reported to the adjacent sports hall to ruminate on his part in the Adidas Two Miles Duel.

In the duel against the arm of the ticking clock he had been both loser and winner: losing the purse at stake for a feat twice that which earned Roger Bannister immortality in 3min 59.4sec at Iffley Road, Oxford, 43 years ago but winning back, by 2.37sec, the world record he lost to Daniel Komen 11 months ago.

Having a vested interest in the Ethiopian's earning power, Jos Hermens, Gebrselassie's manager (and, coincidentally, the organiser of the Adriaan Paulen Memorial Meeting), lamented the pacemaking lull on the third lap that dragged his man more than two seconds off schedule.

Gebrselassie himself mused that the wind might have cost him "two or three seconds" (not to mention a fortune). Time, though, was clearly not standing still for the metronomic running man.

With a fifth outdoor world record securely in his personal collection at the age of 24, his mind was already on number six. The Bislett Games in Oslo on 4 July, he announced, would be the venue for a 10,000m assault.

The high-tempo trail Gebrselassie blazed for eight laps and 16 metres on Saturday was an absorbing throwback to his record-shattering 10,000m run on the same track two years ago, a tour de force eclipsed by Salah Hissou in Brussels last August. Having sharpened his racing edge with a 3min 32sec 1500m in the indoor season, the world and Olympic 10,000m champion will have the clock at his mercy in the Norwegian capital next month.

He may not, however, have the 5,000m record by then. Komen, having been excluded from the Hengelo show, will be a major player with a point to prove when he meets Hissou over twelve-and-a-half laps of Rome's notoriously fast Stadio Olimpico track on Thursday night.

Gebrselassie, at least, left Hengelo with tangible confirmation that he is in record-breaking form himself. Not so Noureddine Morceli. The man who broke the three and three-quarter minute mile barrier was broken long before he stepped off the track on the penultimate lap.

"Something is wrong in my system," the Algerian said. "I need to see my doctor." Having seen Hicham El Guerrouj win the 1500m in 3min 29.51sec, faster than Steve Cram's old world record, will have done little for the vulnerable middle distance king's powers of recovery. The heir from Morocco has one hand on his throne.

Linford Christie, in his abdication year from the international track kingdom, was a photo-finish winner of the 100m in 10.23sec, but the great Briton in Hengelo was Jon Brown. Second place in the 10,000m, behind the world junior champion Assefa Mezgebu in 27min 27.47sec, elevated the European cross-country champion to second on the British all-time ranking list, 4.41sec short of Eamonn Martin's record.

Such is the pace of life in the long distance fast lane these days, though, he is moving up to the marathon in search of success at world level. The 10,000m record Gebrselassie attacks in Oslo is 48 seconds quicker than Brown's time on Saturday. And three-quarters-of-a-lap is a class gap too far to ignore.