Then at 10 p.m., announcer Bob Hersh intoned the magic Millrose words: "It's time for the Wannamaker mile!" The Garden buzzed in excited anticipation of the clash between indoor miling's current king, Marcus O'Sullivan, and 1990's top-rated outdoor miler, Noureddine Morceli.
Millrose Games: Bridge over Troubled WaterNew York City, USA - February 1, 1991 - Morceli: 3:53.50
Fittingly, the starter for the meet's showpiece event was the indoor WR holder Eamonn Coghlan, himself a seven-time winner of the race.
Fellow Irishman O'Sullivan, though, had inherited Coghlan's mantle as the premier indoor miler after winning a pair of World indoor 1500 golds in '87 and '89.
Algeria's young Morceli, meanwhile, was making his 1991 debut after training for three weeks in Mexico City's altitude.
Morceli let John Hinton set a 1:57.7 tempo through the 880, with O'Sullivan stalking him in 3rd. But then Hinton stepped aside and the spotlight centered on the star duo.
The Algerian was content to lead, never appearign anxious or worred. A 2:5.1 split ensured a fast finish - and O'Sullivan made it a thriller by attacking with 1.5 laps left.
But Morceli repulsed the challenge, then produced his own surge to grab victory for good with more than a circuit to go. His 55.4 closing quarter locked up his 3:53.50 triumph.
O'Sullivan's 57.1 finished his 3:55.17; he commented, "I thought if I ran this fast, I'd win. But he had a lot left."
Morceli said, "Some people feel altitude training hurts speed; that you need a couple of races to reacclimate to low altitude. But your interval times in training tell you if you are in good shape - and my intervals tell me I'm just fine."
- Jon Hendershott, "Bridge over Troubled Water" Track and Field News March 1991, p.7.
Eamonn Coghlan is still the Chairman of the Boards - but just barely.
Vitalis/Meadowlands: Mile Record gets ScareEast Rutherford, USA - February 8, 1991 - Morceli: 3:50.81
Noureddine Morceli felt he could break Coghlan's mile World Record if he could get a 1:54 pace for the first 880 at the Vitalis/Meadowlands Invitational.
He almost did, and he almost did.
The 20-year old Algerian got a 1:54.7 tempo from Air Force lieutenant Mike Michno. Morceli was close behind, with Reuben Reina, Marcus O'Sullivan, Steve Scott & Co. already more than 10y in arrears and fading.
Morceli then took over and made a manful solo charge at Coghlan's 3:49.78, set on the same track in '83. But the second he had needed at the halfway mark was still lacking at the finish. He won by 50y or so in 3:50.81, just a long tick away from the record, while Coghlan watched and said, "Safe for another year."
It was the third fastest indoor mile in history - behind the record and Coghlan's 3:50.6 of '81 - and it hints Morceli's No.1 world ranking was only the beginning.
Said the young Algerian, "Last week was my first race. This week I got rhythm in my legs. The last half was by myself; if I had someone pushing me, I think I would have gotten it. I was expecting Marcus O'Sullivan to push me but it didn't happen."
O'Sullivan, who 2nd fully 50y down thetrack in 3:56.75, didn't duck: "I was dissappointed in how I ran. After the first quarter, I kind of shut off a little bit, and at the halfway, when I realized what I had done, I tried to push it, but it was too late."
- Jim Dunaway, "Mile Record Gets Scare" Track and Field News March 1991, p.18.
Certainly the high point of the meet proper was Noureddine Morceli's victory in the mile. It wasn't much of a race, but it was a hell of a run.
TAC Champs: Morceli Out Like BayiNew York City, USA - February 22, 1991 - Morceli: 3:52.99
The 13-man field produced a lot of jostling in the first lap, but before it was over Morceli had moved to the front and begun to set a hard, steady pace. Only Marcus O'Sullivan tried to stay with him, and the two quickly opened a gap on the field.
After a 58.8 opening split, Morceli turned it up (57.1) to reach the half in 1:55.7. He pulled steadily away from the two-time world indoor champion, and led him by more than a straightaway as he hit the 1320 in 2:52.9.
With no one to push him, the Algerian eased through a 60.1 last quarter to finish in 3:52.99, the fastest ever run in this or any other Madison Square Garden meet, and approximately equal to the 11-lap best set by Eamonn Coghlan's then WIR of 3:52.9 in Los Angeles.
Well up the track, O'Sullivan just held off Eric Henry's closign rush for 2nd, 3:58.62 to 3:58.72. None of the others, most of them sub-4:00 milers, could finish under 4:01.
If Morceli needed to tack an exclamation point onto his indoor American indoor season, this certainly provided it.
He said,"If someone was with me on the last lap, I thought I could break the record. I was feeling very good today. I think 2:52 is not fast for me. I have run 2:47 in practice. I wanted to be in front; I feel more relaxed when I'm ahead of the other competitors.
About his chances at the World Indoor, he said,"Right now I don't see anyone who can beat me." One can certainly think of at least 12 people who might agree.
- Jim Dunaway, "World Champs Team Chosen" Track and Field News April 1991, p.4.
Noureddine Morceli became the first from his nation ever to set a World Record, although he wasn't even the first Algerian across the line as the World Championships site got its final pre-meet tune-up.
Seville: Morceli Runs 3:34.16Seville, Spain - February 28, 1991 - Morceli: 3:34.16
The 21-year-old North African trimmed a scant 0.04 from Peter Elliott's 1500 mark with his 3:34.16 clocking.
The on-track clock, triggered by the electric eye at the finish, showed 3:33.14, but that time was generated when one of Morceli's countrymen began his WR celebration a tad early dashed onto the track and across the line.
Morceli, last year's top-rated miler, got help from the kind of fast pace he has said would propel him to record times. He asked for a torrid 1:54 and American Ken Washington, experiences as a rabbit in European outdoor races, obliged with a 1:53.6 before Morceli took over.
Prodded on by the Sevillians' distinctive flamenco clapping, the Algerian carried on alone to the end, dragging Spain's Fermin Cacho (3:35.29) and Portugal's Mario SIlva (3:36.46) to NR's.
Cacho, turned 22 just a week earlier, is obviously a real comer. He now trails only Morceli and Elliott on the all-time list.
- Track and Field News April 1991, p.37.Years hence, the inaugural Nike International meet might be viewed in middle distance history as the point where the torch passed from Said Aouita to Noureddine Morceli.
Neubrandenburg: Torch Passes to MorceliNeubrandenburg, Germany - June 21 - Morceli: 1:44.85
After a season of relative inactivity, Moroccan Aouita didn't appear fully recovered from compartment syndrome surgery, as he was unable to respond to Bob Kennedy's kick in the 3000. The young American took a surprisingly easy 7:48.02 victory over Aouita's 7:48.49.
Twenty minutes earlier, Morceli added the 800 to what appears to be an ever-expanding repertoire. In his first two-lapper in three years - and his first since hitting the elite class, the Algerian made his move on the front-running Paul Ereng with about 300 to go.
The Kenyan seemed to go through several gear changes with 200 left and he tried to kick. But Morceli was in control throughout and won in a PR 1:44.85. Jens-Peter Herold nipped the fading Ereng at the line for 2nd, 1:45.33-1:45.77.
- Ed Gordon, "Torch Passes to Morceli" Track and Field News August 1991, p.38."I hate this job," said Ray Brown, preparing for his task as the 1500's rabbit at the Maxwell/World Games Grand Prix meet. "Still it's better than not running at all," he admitted.
World GamesHelsinki, Finland - June 27, 1991 - Morceli: 3:31.00
The rabbit's job is often a thankless one - if he goes through too fast, or too slow, he's a bum. Even if he gets it right, he's usually ignored.
Perhaps, even worse, if he contributes to a record, he becomes an object of scorn among the purists. But like it or not, rabbits are now an essential part of modern middle-distance racing.
Brown's assignment in Finland's venerable Olympic Stadium was a straigh-forward one: put together a sequence of steady 28-second 200s that would drag Morceli through a 2:20 kilo.
This far north, the sun was still high in the sky as the bulky 15-man field toed the line at 9:30 p.m. In the invigorating Nordic air, a fast race as in the cards.
Moving quickly to the fore, the lanky Brown flowed through an opening lap of 56.3. Morceli, last year's No. 1 World Ranker, tucked in behind while recording a 56.9.
The tempo dropped off marginally on the second go-round, 57.2s putting Brown at 1:53.5 and Morceli at 1:54.1. As the Mutt & Jeff pair strode down the backstretch, the 5-7.75 Algerian began nipping at the heels of his tall assistant.
At 900m, Brown could sense the end of his usefulness and stepped out of the way. Morceli swept by, forming a troika with defending world champ Abdi Bile and last year's No.2 Simon Doyle.
The race for first was now clearly over - all that remained was to see how fast Morceli would run. The answer was, very fast.
Looking as if he had boundless energy in reserve, Morceli continued to pull away. He sped his final lap in 54.7 to lower his PR to 3:31.00 in moving to No.8 on the all-time list.
Doyle and Bile waged a stirring battle for 2nd. Looking anything but smooth, yet exuding raw power, the Aussie whacked a healthy chunk off his PR, edging Bile in the stretch to run a NR of 3:32.78. Bile faded to 3:34.72.
"I would like to thank Ray for his pacing," said Morceli. "He did a good job and ran the splits I asked for. But next time, I will need two rabbits, I could have run faster tonight if I had been pushed toward the end of the race."
On a night of outstanding efforts, Morceli's clearly was the topper, giving as it did so much promise of things to come. Reebok manager Tom Sturak was quick to predict, "A World Record in Stockholm certainly looks likely."
For his part, the confident Morceli added, "If I get the proper race in Stockholm I'll run 3:28."
- Garry Hill, "Morceli Surges 3:31.00" Track and Field News August 1991, p.40.
Finish-line confusion had earier cost Noureddine Morceli a 1500 PR (but not the WR he was seeking). He stopped about a meter short, and after corssing the line was handed a bundle of flowers which he quickly dashd to the track in a fit of pique. Whether that outburst was over his time or his error was not immediately apparent.
Stockholm: Runners out of AfricaStockholm, Sweden - July, 3, 1991 - Morceli: 3:31.01
His 3:31.01 clocking missed his Helsinki PR by a mere 0.01, but it was something on the order of a WR 3:28 he had been looking for on this quick track with supposedly fast rabbits.
Impressive Simon Doyle - with the physique of an Australian Rules Football player - stuck even closer all the way than he had in Helsinki, lowering his NR to 3:31.96.
- Garry Hill, "Runners out of Africa" Track and Field News August 1991, p.43.
The men's mile was the meet's big drawing card, featuring as it did Noureddine Morceli. The Algerian was racing for the first time in a week - a rare luxury this time of the year - after not contesting Oslo's dream mile.
LausanneLausanne, Switzerland - July 10, 1991 - Morceli: 3:49.12 NR
What resulted was a world-leading win for Morceli, but his 3:49.12 was far short of the hoped-for WR (3:46.32).
"The pace for the first 440y was too fast," analyzed Morceli of Ken Washington 54.0 tempo, "so after the second lap I cut the rhythm and just ran to win." Still, it was the 21-year-old star's best mile ever.
Much of Morceli's success was courtesy of Wilfred Kirochi, who was on the Algerian's shoulder during the last 120m, ensurign that there would be no letup before the tape.
Jim Spivey, as is his wont, ran wide during the last 50m and was able to salvage 2nd, his 3:50.52, passing the Kenyan's 3:50.62. Defending Olympic Champ Peter Rono produced his fastest time ever, 3:51.41 in 4th.
- Ed Gordon, "Ottey String Continues" Track and Field News September 1991, p.10.
With Said Aouita looking on, Noureddine Morceli stepped further into the Moroccan's territory by adding the 3000 to his repertoire. It was a cautious, auspicious debut at the distance for the young Algerian.
Nikaia: Morceli PR's over 3000Nice, France - July 15, 1991 - Morceli: 7:37.34 NR
Using triple rabbits - the middle of which was Terrance Herrington - Morceli went through the 2000 in 5:12.7. Then the pace quickened as Khalid Skah, Brahim Boutaib, and Dieter Baumann moved to the front en masse.
Baumann took the lead with about 600 left, but as the bell sounded, Morceli took over, legging the final lap in 53.8 for an Algerian NR 7:37.34. Boutaib (7:38.39) and Skah (7:38.84) took the next spots. Baumann (7:39.10) was 4th, just ahead of Aaron Ramirez, whose 7:41.82 PR showed a great turn of speed as he prepares for the Tokyo 10k.
- Ed Gordon, "Morceli PRs over 3000" Track and Field News September 1991, p.13.
Of all the great talent in the noew-here World Championships there is one man I am most interested in - Noureddine Morceli. He is new, he is good, and he beats them off with enduring runs from the front and/or a withering kick. He has confidence, good coaching and a feeling for track.
Morceli: New Talent
His stats are impressive. He was a true unknown until last year when, from nowhere, he finished the last season atop the World Rankings. This season, with a goodly amount of racing still ahead of us, the Algerian whiz tops the event in three events. He is the first in the 1500 at 3:31.00, the mile with 3:49.12, and the 3000 with 7:37.34. A rare 800 gave him 1:44.85, No.8 on the year list.
Morceli is only 21, and a member of the young runners association. Although he hasn't set any World Records he is expected to set them. If he scores this year he will be matched historically with two scorers who exhibited great ability at a much lower age than most milers:
First, there was Herb Elliot of Australia. He never was beaten in a mile, and set three WR's: 3:36.0 and 3:54.5 at the age of 20 (in '58) and 3:35.6 at 22 (in '60).
Even younger was Jim Ryun, straight out of Kansas. Between his junior and senior years in high school he made the '64 Olympic team.
At 19 Jim claimed the World Record in the 880 (1:44.9), the mile best (3:51.3) and an American Record in the 2M (8:25.2). In '67, at age 20, he added WR's of 3:33.1 and 3:51.1...
- Bert Nelson "Of People and Things" Track and Field News October 1991, p. 44.
Another African made no bones about the prospect of going faster. The ever-modest Said Aouita got his Tokyo qualifier in thr 1500. Trapped in the 21-man pack for most of the race, the Moroccan had to watch from afar as Noureddine Morceli dictated the race.
Herculis MonacoMonaco - August 3, 1991 - Morceli: 3:32.04
Finally, Aouita broke out with 300 left. While he could not threaten Morceli, who was on his way to a 53.7/26.9 closer, Aouita Aouita clocked 3:33.28 to the Algerian's 3:32.04. David Kibet took third (3:33.92) ahead of another comebacker, Steve Cram (3:34.96).
"Now all my World Championships adversaries have to understand that I'm a potential medalist," said Aouita. "I had trouble getting to the front, so I had to eat up all my energy in the straightaway."
"But the great Aouita has returned, and you won't be disappointed. As for Morceli, I will have my revenge."
- Track and Field News October 1991, p.8. by Roy Conrad
Noureddine Morceli has mastered consistency the way few youngsters have. Earlier in the year, he had clockings of 3:31.00 and 3:31.01. Here. he rode the rabbits until the last 350, where he smoothly accelerated away, taking Fermin Cacho with him.
ZurichZurich, Switzerland - August 7, 1991 - Morceli: 3:31.00
The young Spaniard made a move coming off the curb, but a blistering homestraight capped another 3:31.00 for the Algerian. Behind him, Cacho improved his best to 3:32.03 and Steve Cram (3:34.67) continued to establish his fitness.
- Track and Field News October 1991, p.13. by Roy Conrad
It was like the breakup of the old guard, in with the new. Noureddine Morceli drove the final nail in the coffin of what remained of the great milers of the '80's with the most one-sided victory in the last 23 years of championship 1500s.
World Champs: Morceli's Era BeginsTokyo, Japan - September 1, 1991 - Morceli: 3:32.84
Among the injury plagued old guard, defending champion Abdi Bile could not regain his form and didn't start his heat and Peter Elliott was a late scratch because of an Achilles injury.
Oft-injured Steve Cram lacked speedwork because ofa groin problem and could not make the final and Jose Luiz Gonzalez lost out in a sprint-finish semi. Two sub-3:50 Americans withdrew, Jim Spivey with a bad hip and Joe Falcon with an ongoing infection.
The only American to run, Terrance Herrington, had put in a long summer chasign a qualifier and failed to show his TAC kick in a slow heat.
Morceli, running in the green of Algeria, was seldom more than inches out of 3rd, following splits of 58.1 and 1:57.4. Then, a few meters before the bell, he burst into the lead. "I was very confident, because I knew that sprinting was my strength," he said after his MR 3:32.84.
Was he ever right! He showed perhaps the strongest finishing drive ever seen in a race of such speed. Behind him, runners fell away like sparks off the tail of a comet. Around the final bend the last of them disappeared and Morceli powered down the homestretch to win by 15m.
Morceli's last lap, 51.5, was almost evenly paced, with a final 300 in 38.7 and last 200 in 25.9. His last 800 was 1:50.1; only Seb Coe - 1:50.0 LA '84 - has run as fast in a fast Olympics or World Champs.
And in races of that speed, only Coe has run a final 200 as fast, and nobody has ever run his last 300, let alone 400, at Morceli's pace. Never!
Said Aouita, regaining his fitness after a year's absence with surgery for compartment syndrome, watched Morceli carefully from 2m back in their heat and said, "I had lots of energy left. I don't know who will win the final."
In the final he followed Morceli's break, staying close around the curve. But on the backstretch he knew he could not keep up. Aouita, the WR holder and twice No. 1 in the world, quit trying and finished 11th. He has still never won a major-championships 1500.
Wilfred Kirochi of Kenya, ranked No. 3 in '89, when he was only 20, ran a 3:49.77 mile at Oslo, then suffered an injury at Lausanne. With only three weeks of training, he was in the top three most of the way and stayed within 3m of Morceli until the last bend.
"In the homestretch I was still watched behind," he said, but he held onto the silver (3:34.84) by almost a half-second.
Hauke Fuhlbrugge, a 25-year-old former East German, had split decisions this year with teammate Jens-Peter Herold. Herold, however was the European champion and ranked No. 4 last year, while Fuhlbrugge has never been ranked and was injured earlier.
Herold ran his ususally reliable race and seemed to have the bronze medal. But Fuhlbrugge passed the quitting Aouita in the stretch, then charged past Spain's 3:32.03 runner, Fermin Cacho. "I saw Jens-Peter ease up and that was my chance," said Fuhlbrugge, whose fiery finish won the bronze (3:35.28) by inches over his countryman (3:35.77).
Simon Doyle of Australia, expected to be a medal winner off his 3:31.96 earlier, ran wide in the middle of the pack then faded away to last.
After his victory, Morceli went to his knees, head on track, then threw kisses to the sky. "I am not tired, because I am quite used to running fast," he said. "Maybe I have to thank God for having such vitality."
The US-trained 21-year-old used his astonishing kick in 88-degree weather with humidity at 56%. Nobody disputed him when he said, "I'm not worried about running 3:28 or 3:29. That will come."
- Cordner Nelson, Track and Field News November 1991, p.13.
Noureddine Morceli waited patiently for the proper moment to sprint in the 1500, and it came with about 300 to go. When he took off, Said Aouita followed in close pursuit. As was true all year, however, Morceli's overdrive was unmatchable.
GP Final: Titles to Bubka, HenkelBarcelona, Spain - September 20, 1991 - Morceli: 3:34.48
He picked up the pace to win easily in 3:34.48, using a last lap 52.1 to turn this sow's ear into a fat purse. Aouita was pushed to a 3:36.13 for 2nd.
- Dave Johnson & Ed Gordon, "Runners out of Africa" Track and Field News December 1991, p.15.