Season's best not enough for O'Sullivan


Mixed fortunes for the Irish contingent as the Grand Prix athletics season moved a step closer to its climax in Berlin last night. Sonia O' Sullivan was well beaten in her 5,000 metres rematch with Gabriella Szabo but Mark Carroll of Cork topped off an amazing 10-day spell by breaking the Irish 5,000m record earlier in the night.

For O'Sullivan the defeat in a race which had been labelled a grudge match by those promoting it and a fun run by the European champion, the blow of defeat to her Romanian rival was soften by her quickest run of the year. She turned in a 14:51 second performance but still finished some way off the pace set by Szabo who broke away early in a three-person group with Gete Wami of Ethiopia and Zahra Ouaziz of Morocco.

Ouaziz, with easily the best time of the season under her belt going into the race, was always going to be the athlete to beat. The Moroccan had came out of nowhere to take third place behind O'Sullivan in the World Championships in 1995 in Gothenburg but times have changed considerably since then and the Moroccan, who has some family pedigree in the business of distance running, has emerged as a huge force over the distance.

Last night Szabo, who publicly and churlishly voiced her displeasure at O'Sullivan's tactics in the European championships, chose to do virtually the same to the Moroccan, trailing her for long periods before breaking away on the final bend.

In what was the best race of the night the diminutive Romanian surged ahead with 70 metres to go and crossed the line in 14:31.49.

For O' Sullivan, who exchanged a frosty handshake with Szabo, the night was a disappointment overall but mentally she appears to have wound down since Budapest. "At least the time was in the range of possibilities I was told I'd run," she said afterwards. " The whole thing about times, I'm not sure about. I'm not motivated enough at the moment. In a championship race I don't worry about the clock I just go. Tonight I wasn't right. I wasn't all there.".

Despite her lukewarm performance she intends staying on in Berlin for a few days and flying onto Moscow for the Grand Prix final on Saturday night. This appendix to a memorable season hasn't been as worthwhile as she hoped but neither has it diminshed the glory.

"I could just have easily stopped after the European Championships. I didn't need to go after this. It doesn't subtract at all from the happiness of having won. I would rather be the European champion than the winner in Berlin.

"After the Olympics in 1992 when I finished fourth I went out afterwards to beat all the people who beat me. It gave me a little bit of satisfaction and tonight will give Szabo a little satisfaction but it doesn't give you the gold medal at the end of the year. At the end of the day it's not written in to many books who the Berlin champion is. I'd rather be the European champion."

Meanwhile, Mark Carroll's extraordinary season blossomed still further when he smashed Frank O Meara's old record for the 5,000m in a respectably paced race won eventually by the Ethiopian world record holder Haile Gebrselassie.

Carroll was among a bunch of runners dropped by four African athletes with a 1000 metres to go. Gebrselassie, Kipkosgei (Kenya), Mezgebu (Ethiopia and Lahlafi (Morocco) kicked from the pack with a just under three laps left. The pacing done by the rabbits earlier in the race had set Carroll up for a fast time, however, and he hung on in the second group in the company of the American Bob Kennedy "It felt good. I went faster through 3,000m than I ever have before; 7:51 I think. I got a bit of help then from Bob Kennedy. We helped each other out. After that I really felt it in my hamstring. I've had a few tough races but I thought I'd hang on and maybe do 13:07. It's been a tough 10 days with the European Championships and then Brussells the other night.

Indeed, having broken Eamon Coghlan's Irish 3,000m record as recently as last Friday night Carroll knocked over 10 seconds off his own three year old personal best time for the longer distance to set a new national record of 13:03.93. O'Meara's old time of 13:13.02 set in Oslo in 1987 was thus obliterated.

"I knew I was way under Frank's record but it doesn't really matter. Anything under 13:10 tonight I'd have been really happy with. I never mean any disrespect to Eamon or Frank they ran good times when they ran them but you see it there tonight I beat an Irish record by ten seconds and I was seventh in the race. That's the way the sport is now. It's moving ahead and it's not coming back. We have to bring Irish distance running into the 90's. It ain't slowing down."

Kilkenny's Sinead Delahunty finished the women's 1,500m with a familiar sight in front of her, the back of Svetlan Masterkova. The double Olympic champions extraordinary dominance of the event was never threatened last night.

Delahunty, having been anonymous for most of the race, showed at the front on the bell for the last lap but was swamped by her rivals by the time the race got serious down the back straight. She tied up on the home stretch finishing in seventh with a time of 4:07.25, four seconds off Masterkova's relatively modest winning time Otherwise, it was business as usual for a host of the tracks biggest stars. Marion Jones continued her indomitable form winning the women's 100m in 10.81. Hicham El Guerrouj streaked away with the men's 1,500 metres while Michael Johnson held off two American challengers in the 400m.

Johnson, one of the sport's big names who will not compete in the Grand Prix final in Moscow on Saturday because of the developing crisis there, secured another comfortable victory in the 400m.

The Olympic and world champion clocked a routine 44.62 secs and will now head home to Dallas to play in a pro-am golf tournament rather than chase prize money of £2.75m.

Jerome Young, who will face Britain's Iwan Thomas at the World Cup in Johannesburg next week, held Johnson until 300m before seeing him power away in the home straight.

Young finished second in 45.18 secs with another American Tyree Washington, third in 45.36.

Morocco's El Guerrouj kept on course for at least a $250,000 in Moscow with victory in the 1,500m by a clear three second margin. The world champion and record holder is one of four athletes who are still in with a chance of sharing in the $1 million on offer to anyone who wins all six Golden League meetings and the Grand Final.

American Jones looks an even safer bet for claiming part of the bonus as she destroyed her rivals to win the 100m in 10.81 seconds to stretch her unbeaten record in all events this year to 31.

Two Americans who will be heading for Moscow are Marion Jones and Bryan Bronson, the 400m hurdler, who remained on course for a share of the jackpot.

If they all win on Saturday then they will each pick up a $250,000 bonus in addition to the prize money they have collected throughout the season.

But Bronson so nearly missed out by the thickness of his vest on his potential share as he just held off Stephane Diagana, France's world champion who fell in last month's Europeans.

Bronson won by just 0.01 of a second while the other three jackpot contenders all had assured victories. Jones looks a safe bet for claiming part of the bonus as she destroyed her rivals to win the 100m in 10.81secs to stretch her unbeaten record in all events this year to 31.

Elsewhere, Colin Jackson found avenging American Allen Johnson too strong to handle. The Welshman, who scored a rare victory over the World and Olympic gold medallist in Glasgow last Sunday, had to settle for second place.