By Duncan Mackay
If Hicham El Guerrouj is ever brave enough to make another attempt on a record at Gateshead perhaps he should give Scotland's Dougie Walker a call on how to acclimatise.
The Moroccan may currently be the best middle-distance runner on the planet but in the Grand Prix II meeting here last night, as many great athletes before him have discovered, the north-east of England is not the place to chase world-records.
In conditions so cold and wet that some of the crowd of 6203 were wearing scarves and gloves, El Guerrouj narrowly missed Noureddine Morceli's three-year-old world record for the 2000 metres of 4min 47.88sec. The new world record holder for the 1500m entered the home straight still on course, but found the effects of battling driving rain, wind and cold too much. There was a groan of disappointment as he crossed the line in 4:48.36, the second fastest time in history but a frustrating 0.48 outside what was needed. "I had great support from the crowd. I was surprised to see people sitting in the rain," said El Guerrouj.
For Walker the conditions were no handicap in the rarely-run 300m. The 24-year-old Scotsman shocked Britain's leading 400m runners, including Mark Richardson, Iwan Thomas and Roger Black, to win by nearly quarter of a second in 31.56secs. "The weather's no problem for me because I'm from Scotland," he joked afterwards.
The time took 0.11 off the six-year-old European best held by John Regis, who was track side working for television, and earned Walker a $20,000 bonus. Walker, Britain's top-ranked 200m runner, flew out of his blocks and dominated his rivals. Even down the home straight, when Richardson and Thomas would have expected to make ground on him, Walker continued to pull away.
The javelin throwers also made light of the awful conditions. First, Steve Backley produced his longest throw for six years when he hurled the spear out to 89.89 metres. Then, Mark Roberson threw 85.67m to add nearly five metres to his personal best which was set ten years ago and go to third on the UK all-time list.
Reigning Commonwealth high jump champion Tim Forsyth produced his best performance since commencing his European campaign earlier this month. Forsyth, who last week tied for fourth at the Golden Gala in Rome, jumped 2.28m to defeat Britain's Brendan Reilly. Also behind Forsyth in the field one of Britain's leading jumpers Dalton Grant who was third with 2.20m and Commonwealth record holder Troy Kemp who finished 5th
Full results from Gateshead GPII