Whatever happened to? British middle- distance running

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In the golden summer of 1979, Sebastian Coe breaks three world records in six weeks, leaving fields and superlatives trailing in his wake. He completes the final lap of his final record at 1500m in glorious isolation for a time of 3 minutes 32 seconds. During the following gold- medalled summer at the Moscow Olympics, Steve Ovett comes first in the 800m, Coe second, before himself winning the 1500m. Britain rules the middle-distance world.

Coe and Ovett often refuse to compete against one another, so we never really know who is the best. Meanwhile, along comes Steve Cram to steal their thunder, with victory over Said Aouita and a world record in 1985.

Success continues at the European championships of 1986 as, like "three Spitfires coming out of the sun" (The Telegraph), Cram, Coe and Tom McKean make a clean sweep of the medals in the 800m. The future of British middle- distance running seems assured.

But at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics not one Briton reaches the 1500 final - for the first time since 1960. Cram, prevented from competing by Matthew Yates, whose time for the mile is over four minutes, draws his own conclusions: "The ones who have come through are not up to standard. Matthew Yates, for instance, is good but he's never going to break a world record."

Then, in September 1993, Noureddine Morceli takes two seconds off Cram's world mile record - down to 3:44.39 - in Rieti, northern Italy and the African domination of middle-distance running begins. Though Roger Bannister claims an unfair advantage for black runners "of genetics and upbringing".

The balance of power in British athletics shifts to shorter distances with Linford Christie and Sally Gunnell winning world, European and Olympic titles. Coe, now a Tory MP, believes it is down to the lack of "decent PE teachers" - rather than funding. But, as the British 1500m champion, John Maycock (who he?) commented last month, "People think: `1500 m? We used to be good at that...' We're crap now."

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