Oympic champion suffers setback

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Hassiba Boulmerka, the world and Olympic 1500 metres champion from Algeria, suffered a demoralising defeat in the run-up to this month's Atlanta Games in her first major outing of the season at the Nice Grand Prix last night.

After leading at the bell, Boulmerka was unable to stay with the pace on the last lap as Portugal's Carla Sacramento continued her superb season with an emphatic victory in 4min 2.64sec.

Boulmerka finished back in seventh place in 4:05.87. The Russia Ludmilla Rogachova, who had picked up the pace dramatically with a burst 300 metres from the finish, took second place in 4:02.69.

Boulmerka has had problematic preparations to major championships before and has a habit of hitting top form at just the right time, but she looked way off the pace in the last lap. The result will have been a blow to her confidence so close to the Olympics.

Torrance Zellner, who failed to make the United States Olympic team, was another to upset the preparations of a medal contender in the build- up to Atlanta. He defeated Zambia's world silver medallist, Samuel Matete, in the men's 400m hurdles. Matete was unable to produce another of his fast finishes in the last 50 metres and Zellner just held him off to win in 48.24sec. Matete finished second, just 0.03sec behind.

In contrast, Cuba's world champion Ana Fidelia Quirot clocked up an important, confidence-boosting win in the women's 800m in 1:59.21. That time, however, is well outside the American Meredith Rainey's fastest in the world this year of 1:57.04 and even Quirot's 1996 best of 1:57.38.