Ana Guevara wins the 400 metres (Getty Images Allsport) © Copyright
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Jackpot Four face Final Trial in Berlin

BerlinThe scenario for the IAAF Golden League Jackpot in Berlin this Friday is quite straightforward. Four athletes, four nationalities, four events. After six meetings this summer, just four star contenders remain in the hunt for gold. Each has one final battle to be fought, the outcome of which will decide who, if anyone will take a share of 50 kilos of gold, the Golden League Jackpot.

Marion Jones (USA), Ana Guevara (MEX), Hicham El Guerrouj (MAR) and Felix Sanchez (DOM) are the remaining aspirants on this summer’s golden Jackpot trail.

All are winners six times over during a season-long quest, which started in Oslo on 28 June, and has since alighted in the cities of Paris (5 July), Rome (12 July), Monaco (19 July), Zurich (16 August), Brussels (30 August). This Friday in the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark the journey reaches a spectacular terminus at the ISTAF 2002 meeting in Berlin.

Marion Jones, though running below her usually peerless standard, has never been seriously challenged throughout the summer. Last week in Brussels, she twice saw off her 100m nemesis from last year’s World Championships in Edmonton, Zhanna Pintusevich-Block, to take a superb sprint double (100m 10.88 / 200m 22.11).

The surprise of the year has without doubt been Mexico’s Ana Guevara in the women’s 400m. As the 2001 World Championship bronze medallist, Guevara was not unknown at the start of the year. However, her development into a real world power, stepping into the vacuum left by Cathy Freeman, Katherine Merry and a below-par World Champion Amy Mbacke-Thiam, has been one of the most pleasing aspects of the 2002 season. In particular, her respective 49.24 and 49.16 runs in Monaco and Zurich, will live long in the memory.

Hicham El Guerrouj, despite thoughts of dabbling with 5000m in the last few seasons remains the undisputed King of the Mile. Despite the unusual sight in Brussels last Friday of Kenya’s Bernard Lagat still sitting at the Moroccan’s shoulder only 110 metres from home, El Guerrouj was just playing with his Kenyan opponent. A smooth change of gear by the Moroccan World champion and World record holder for 1500m, immediately opened up a comfortable winning margin. In Zurich, two weeks before Guerrouj was only .89 away from his World record in Zurich, and remains a superstar at the top of his game.

The Dominican Republic’s World 400m hurdles champion Felix Sanchez has notched up a remarkable series of performances over 400m in 2002, both on the flat and over the barriers, including a double at the London Grand Prix two weeks ago. His Golden League battle however has only been over the hurdles and despite recording 47.35 for an Area record in Zurich, of all the four remaining Jackpot contenders Sanchez looked the most vulnerable last time out in Brussels.

After such a brilliant season, Sanchez needs to learn a quick lesson from history. In the 1998 Golden League, when the criterion for winning the Jackpot was that an athlete had to succeed in the Grand Prix Final, as well as winning the seven Golden Leagues, USA’s Bryan Bronson, was memorably beaten in the last of these races in Moscow.

Why the historical significance for Sanchez? Well, Bronson was also a 400 m hurdler, he was also one of four contenders for the Jackpot, and his vanquisher Stephane Diagana, is the same athlete who so nearly beat Sanchez a week ago in Brussels. With Diagana on the start list in Berlin this Friday, Sanchez will pray that history doesn’t repeat itself any further!

In Berlin, in terms of the Jackpot, all past deeds, all previous fast times are forgotten, it’s only the accomplishment of a seventh 2002 IAAF Golden League victory which matters. There are no prizes for second in an athletic test of stamina, which El Guerrouj at the beginning of the season so perfectly compared to the “Grand Slam” of Tennis. To win all seven Golden League meetings is supposed to be hard, it’s the magnitude of the task which separates the IAAF Golden League from all other annual athletics challenges.