Thursday 16 July 1998 will certainly be remembered as the evening of the Moroccans, as they dominated the winners' lists in the Nice "Nikaia" IAAF Grand Prix, with five victories from a total of 18 events.
Top of the bill was Hicham El Guerrouj. After his astonishing world record in the 1500 in Rome on 14 July, El Guerrouj had come to Nice with the declared intention of beating the world record in the mile. He missed it by the very narrowest of margins:with the support of the crowd and the good work of the pace makers, he clocked the second best performance ever, just a few hundredths of a second off Morceli’s world record mark of 3:4439.
Led by pace maker Bernhard Kisilu (KEN), the lead pack went through the 400 yards in 54.43, the 800m mark was passed in 1:50.83 and Driss Maazouzi (FRA) took El Guerrouj to the 1200m mark in 2:47.93. Then he was all on his own as he ran for the finish line to clock a final 3:44.60, just 21 hundredths away from the record.
The 800m women race saw the surprising victory of Benhassi, (MAR). In a strong field with Afanasyeva, Vriesde and Valmon, the Moroccan kicked out in the last 50 meters with an astonishing sprint to cross the line in first place. Her 1:58.47 is not only her personal best but also and most important a new Moroccan record and the fifth performance of the year. Morocco went on to double up in the 800m when Haida won in the Men’s event a few minutes later
Haida took advantage of his strong finish to overtake Robert Chirchir, who was leading the Kenyan squad, on the finish line to mark 1:44.87, with the Kenyan eight hundredths behind..
"This is really Morocco’s evening with my win which is the third so far for my country. The 800 is very quick and the Moroccan technique works well."
The women's 3000m offered a fantastic battle between Sonia O’Sullivan World Cross Country Champion, Zorha Ouaziz, owner of the best time of the season and Gete Wami, world champion of the road relay with her team mates of Ethiopia earlier this year in Manaus. The three girls left the main pack far behind with Wami making the pace. Ouaziz and O’Sullivan then broke away in the last lap to battle for the victory in the final sprint. Ouaziz won the day clocking a new Moroccan and African record of 8:28.66 in the process: fitting revenge for her defeat by O'Sullivan in the short cross in this year's World Cross Country Championships in Marrakech.Gete Wami finished third in 8:33.84, a new national record.
The fifth Moroccan victory of the evening came in the men's 3000m, where Salah El Ghazi took the tape at 7:38.57 ahead of Kenyan Martin Keino and fellow Moroccan Mohammed Amyne, with just four tenths separating the three leaders.
In the 400m Hurdles, Kim Batten established a new season's best in a race she led from star to finish. After a tremendous start, she left all her rivals metres behind as she crossed the line in 53:17.
Bernard Barmasai, reigning world champion and world record holder, set a new season best in the 3000 steeplechase by more than 7 seconds (8:01.54), running alone for the final 800m.
Javier Sotomayor cleared 2.34 to establish a new year’s best after a tough battle with Olympic champion Charles Austin
In the sprints, Christine Arron (FRA), returning to competition after injury, easily won the 100m in 10.99, recording her fifth time under 11.00. Despite an extremely bad start, she managed to produce her great acceleration in the last 20 metres to dominate the field. She looks in good form for the forthcoming European Championships.
In the men’s 100m, Frank Fredericks continued his winning series here in Nice, setting a new meeting record of 10.00.
The Hungarian Balazs Kiss defeated the owner of the best mark so far this season, his great rival Igor Astapovich, in an event he led from first to last throw. He once again confirmed his impressive regularity over 80 metres (5 throws over this distance) with a best throw of 82.13. Astapovich finished fourth place behind Gecsek and Abduvaliev. Eastern Europe representatives once again confirmed their domination of this event.
Laura Arcoleo reports from Nice