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Stars shine in Zurich

Morocco's Brahim Boulami smiles after setting a new world record. Keystone Archive

The latest edition of Zurich's Weltklasse athletics meeting certainly lived up to the event's prestigious billing.

This content was published on August 16, 2002 - 23:15

The Weltklasse's global reputation was further enhanced on Friday by the setting of a new world record in the men's 3,000 metres steeplechase.

In addition to Boulami's heroics, five other athletes recorded best times for the season.

Even before the start of the evening's main programme there was something for the Zurich crowd to cheer with previously out-of-form Kenyan Wilfred Bungei setting a season's best time of 1:43.64 in the men's 800 metres B race.

Romanian world champion Gabriela Szabo then followed Bungei's example, jostling her way through the field in the women's 1,500 metres before sprinting past America's Suzy Favor-Hamilton on the final stretch to set another best time for 2002.

World beater

But both runners were left in the shade moments later when Morocco's Brahim Boulami shattered his own previous world record with a magnificent performance in the steeplechase.

Pulling away from his rivals in style, Boulami powered over the obstacles to knock more than two seconds off his previous best and post a new world record time of 7:53.17.

"I knew that it was possible for me to run a world record race," Boulami beamed afterwards. "When I saw the split (time at 2,000 metres) of 5:17, I started to think that I could really break the record. For the moment it's the end of the Kenyans' dominance but I'm sure they will try to come back and break the record again."

Boulami's final hurtle towards the line provoked a massive roar from the Zurich crowd, whose standing spectators in particular help to generate noise of a level rarely heard at rival athletics meetings.

Sprinters eclipsed

Following the Moroccan's performance the big stars of the sprinting world found themselves momentarily eclipsed.

America's Marion Jones did just enough in the women's 100 metres, though, to keep herself on course for a share of the Golden League jackpot - a 50kg gold prize divided among any athletes who win in all of the seven Golden League meetings.

Having already won four Golden League races this season, Jones managed a fifth victory in Zurich, after edging compatriot Chryste Gaines into second place by just seven hundredths of a second.

Jones remains part of a four-way challenge for the golden jackpot following further wins on Friday for Ana Guevara (women's 400 metres), Felix Sanchez (men's 400-metre hurdles) and Hicham El Guerrouj (1,500 metres).

All three runners managed to set year best times in their respective disciplines, with El Guerrouj missing out on a new world record by just nine tenths of a second.

Veteran star Gail Devers saw her golden dream fade away in Friday's 100 metre hurdles race, however, with the popular American managing only third place and sliding out of jackpot contention.

Greene left blue

As in the women's event, the men's 100 metres was to end in an American one-two but, in possibly the biggest upset of the night, it wasn't Olympic and world champion Maurice Greene who was celebrating.

Greene, who also holds the current world record in the sport's showcase discipline, was forced to settle for a rare fifth place with compatriots Tim Montgomery and Coby Miller taking first and second spot respectively.

"They ran a very good race, and I ran a bad one," said Frank Greene afterwards. "It was simply their day."

Bucher beaten

Unfortunately for the local fans, it wasn't Andre Bucher's day with the Swiss 800 metres world champion taking fourth place in the A series, almost a second behind Kenyan winner Joseph Mwengi.

Having recently come back from a lengthy injury lay-off to grab an unexpected silver medal at the European Championships in Munich, Bucher actually managed to record his best time of the season on Friday (1:44.30) but was unable to come close to Mwengi.

Racing strongly throughout, the Kenyan even managed to knocked a further third of a second off the season's best time set by his compatriot Bungei less than two hours earlier.

"It was my first really fast race this season," Bucher told swissinfo. "Beforehand I'd been hoping to run under 1:45, so I'm really happy with the time and the way I finished.

"I was involved in some pushing and shoving and simply wasn't in the right position towards the end. But I'm happy anyway."

Bucher admits that it was his injury problems that forced him to change his style, having previously been known for taking early leads in his races. And having seen the new tactic win him the silver in Munich, the Lucerne star says that foot fracture now seems to have done him a big favour.

"After my injury I knew that I wouldn't be able to go as strong as I can from the start," explained Bucher, "so the injury forced me to change my tactics and has actually given me some totally new options."

Tenth triumph for Mutola

Mozambique's Maria Mutola didn't manage to break any world records or even set a season's best in the women's 800 metres, but her victory on Friday was clearly one of the night's most popular among the sell-out Zurich crowd.

A big fan of the Swiss event herself, Mutola was incredibly celebrating her tenth consecutive win at the Weltklasse meeting.

"Zurich is always a special one," said a delighted Mutola at the end of a memorable night. "To win here for the tenth time is great, unbelievable."

by Mark Ledsom, Zurich

In brief

Morocco's Brahim Boulami provides the highlight of the evening with a new world record (7:53.17) in the 3,000 metres steeplechase.

American star Marion Jones wins the women's 100 metres to stay in contention for the Golden League jackpot.

Switzerland's Andre Bucher has to settle for fourth place in the 800 metres.

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