Record attempt blown off course


Catherina McKiernan lost a king's ransom but won many friends in a brave attempt on the world marathon record in Amsterdam yesterday.

McKiernan ran the fifth fastest marathon in history by a woman but still finished some 96 seconds outside Tegla Loroupe's record when crossing the line in two hours 22 minutes and 23 seconds at the end of a journey, undertaken with confidence and enormous courage through the wet, windswept streets of the old city.

In winning her third marathon in as many starts, she emphasised yet again that she is a richly talented athlete who, carefully nurtured, can secure Olympic glory in Sydney.

This was the day when she was primed to stamp her name at the top of the world rankings. That she failed to do so, was down to the elements rather than any weaknesses in her make up.

It was miserably cold when the race started in temperatures of just eight degrees Celsius and if the threatened rain held off for most of the race, the runners still found themselves splashing through pools of surface water after an early morning downpour.

Most difficult of all, however, was the velocity of the wind which hit the runners head on. As the field made their way through a bleak industrial estate in the second half of the race she saw the world record bonus of £350,000 slip through her fingers.

At the half way point in the race, she was seven seconds inside record schedule and if the pace dropped subsequently, she was still precisely on schedule for the big prize as she went though the 30 kilometres mark in 1 hour 40 minutes.

But the storm clouds were already beginning to gather, literally and metaphorically, and when she required 17 minutes and 10 seconds to cover the next 5,000 metres, the great adventure was gone irretrievably wrong.

With the accredited pacemakers dropped and the big money gone, it was only character which sustained her in the closing stages but still she gritted her teeth and battled. When the clock ticked over at Loroupe's magical figure of two hours 20 minutes 47 seconds, there were still some 500 metres of wet tarmac separating McKiernan from the sanctuary of the finish line but still she fought to trim one minute 21 seconds off her previous best.

"On a good day, I'm certain I can get the record," she said. "It was shattering to walk out of my hotel in the morning to find the wind blowing so strong but I'd come to give it a go and I did. The pacemakers did a good job for me, I was never stressed at any stage of the race but in the end, the wind beat me."

Most calculations gave her a pay day of approximately £100,000, a long way short of the half million which it seemed, was hers, until the weather blew most of it away. But if it dismayed her, it wasn't immediately obvious.

Like a prize fighter leaving the ring, she was engulfed as she made her way to the interview room, a tiny figure lost in the melee of media people and well -wishers.

"You don't sound much like a lady who's just lost a million guilder," said one Dutch journalist. "No" she answered." You wouldn't be thinking of taking up a collection for me, would you?"

"Put it down to experience," she told another. And the words, one suspected, echoed the inner belief of an athlete who knows that the best had yet to come.