Holding, Walsh come to Windies bowlers rescue
By Tony Cozier In LONDON
July 6, 2004
New York - Guyana's middle-distance champion Marian Burnette continued her warm-up to the Athens Olympics on a cool, shocking evening of performance amidst the still air of the Rome Golden Gala at the Olympic Stadium in Italy.
Last Friday, Burnette churned out a satisfactory 2:00.29s for fifth place in the Women's `A' Series 800m while two of the meet's plethora of big names got unbelievable defeats in front of a 26,000 crowd.
First, the great Moroccan, Hicham El Guerrouj, could do no better than eighth place in his pet event - the 1500m. Next, Mexico's world champion Ana Guevara had her 23-event consecutive unbeaten run ended by Bahamian miler Tonique Williams- Darling.
For her part, the Guyanese track ace got an improvement in her second race on the European circuit this year, following the opening 2:02.70s she turned out last week in Prague. The diminutive athlete said she is gaining good exposure to help her "gauge the competition for the Olympics."
In the absence of world and Olympic champion Maria Mutola, Slovenia's Jolanda Ceplak used the meet's `A' class race to run the fastest women's 800m in 2004 so far. Her time beat the previous season's best set by her arch-rival Mutola, by 0.04 seconds.
The World Indoor record holder and European champion held off the challenge by Russia's Svetlana Cherkasova to cross the line in 1:57.68s. The 800m races were promotional events for the Golden League, and drew participation from 26 top half-milers from 19 countries.
Burnette will have another major contest at the Lausanne Super Grand Prix in Switzerland today where her idol Mutola is included in a star-studded field.
"This should be my last meet before returning home in Louisiana to continue prep for the Olympics," she told Stabroek Sports from her European base in Teddington, UK.
UNBEATEN STREAK ENDS
Racing exactly six weeks before the Athens Olympics, El Guerrouj (3:32.64s) finished more than two seconds behind surprise winner Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain in a season leading 3:30.25s, ahead of Kenya's Bernard Lagat.
He lost on the same track where he set the world record of 3:26.00s in 1998, a mark that still stands.
El Guerrouj had been undefeated since finishing second at the 2000 Sydney Games. He has won 81 of 83 races at 1,500m since 1996, but he won his last three races by margins of just 0.03, 0.04 and 0.05 seconds.
Guevara was handed her first loss in three years. She hadn't lost since the 2001 World Championships. Her dragon-slayer from the small, athletics-rich, tourist isles, Williams-Darling announced herself as a gold medal candidate for the Athens Olympics this summer as she crushed her 400-metre field for a 2004 world-leading 49.25s to Guevara's 49.74s.
The awesomely muscular Bahamanian followed up on her 49.78s win at the opening Golden League - the Bergen Bislett Games.
A bronze medallist at the World Indoor Championship in Budapest in March, Williams-Darling with her win, became the fastest English-speaking Caribbean runner of all time in the event in front of fellow Bahamian Pauline Davis-Thompson (49.28), and Jamaicans Lorraine Fenton (49.30) and Grace Jackson (49.57).
St. Kitts and Nevis' world champion Kim Collins couldn't match his words from the presser, finishing third to Aziz Zakari of Ghana who won his second 100-metre race of the year in his season-best time of 10.10s.
Jamaica's national 100m record-holder Asafa Powell (2nd), the evergreen Frankie Fredericks of Namibia (3rd) and American J.J. Johnson (5th) and Bahamas' world indoor champion Dominic Demeritte (8th) were outdone by Mauritius Stephane Buckland (20.20s) in the 200m.
Undoubtedly the match- ups of the meet were in the Men's 800m `A' and `B' in which world record holder William Kipketer of Denmark
(1:43.88s) returned after a lay-off to outfox the `who's who' field with his trademark strategic running.
Almost all of the world's top contenders competed here with World and Olympic champions Yuriy Borzakovskiy of Russia ending third and Andre Bucher of Switzerland finished 10th in Race A.
Other top challengers included Hezekiel Sepeng (South Africa) Wilfred Bungei (Kenya), Berhanu Alemu (Ethiopia), Osmar Barbosa dos Santos (Brazil) and Jean Patrick Nduwimana. (Burundi).