Sarajevo back on track

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The Independent Online
For the first time in four years when the sound of a single shot rings out around the Kosevo stadium in Sarajevo this afternoon, it should only signal activity of a peaceful nature. Nine months after the Bosnian cease- fire was brokered, some of the world's leding athletes have been flown into Sarajevo to take part in the Solidarity Meeting for Bosnia.

Despite guarantees of safety, not all the athletes who competed in Saturday's Grand Prix final in Milan will be in Sarajevo. Jonathan Edwards, Britain's triple jump world record holder, has a prior commitment, but has promised to visit Bosnia to hold coaching sessions sometime soon. Michael Johnson left his decision to pull out until the last minute, the concerned words of his mother, Ruby, ringing in his ears. If Johnson had heard from the people of Sarajevo though, their appeals might have changed his mind again. Ethnic cleansing, famine and disease failed to snuff out the spirit of the people who continued to race on the track even as shells whizzed overhead from Serb positions overlooking the city.

While there may be unease about safety, some also harbour doubts about the gesture, questioning the appropriateness of spending millions of dollars to stage a sports event in a city where the basic essentials - water, power, a roof to sleep under - are still unavailable to many. There are some athletes who, quite pointedly, refuse to support the meeting. Dragutin Topic, the 1990 European high jump champion, lives in Serbia and has refused to attend. Local Serb officials have also declined their invitations.

The general feeling among the athletes is that last Saturday's Grand Prix final in Milan was a suitable way to end the Olympic summer, with pounds 2.5m distributed at the biggest prize money meeting in the history of the sport.

Edwards, despite winning his event with a spirited 17.59 metres, found himself eclipsed in the race for cash by Kenya's latest distance running sensation, Daniel Komen, who won the 5,000 metres. Perhaps pounds 100,000, the largest prize ever won by a British athlete, will provide some consolation for Edwards, though it could never replace the gold medal he missed out on in Atlanta, where he suffered his sole defeat in 31 competitions during the past two years.

"I'll buy my wife a new car, and I'll make some investments for our children," Edwards said. "Compared to what I used to earn, this is mega money."

n Merlene Ottey became the second fastest woman of all time on Saturday when she clocked 10.74sec to beat the Olympic champion Gail Devers at the IAAF Grand Prix finals. The Jamaican's time is the fastest run by a woman since September 1988 when Florence Griffith-Joyner ran 10.61 in an Olympic qualifying round in Seoul.