Classics steeplechase could set new standard

Morocco's Boulami is ready to challenge Henry Rono's mark

The fastest 3,000-meter steeplechase on American soil took place in May 1978, when Kenya's Henry Rono set a world record of 8 minutes, 5.4 seconds while competing for Washington State in a dual meet in Seattle.

Brahim Boulami doesn't want to write a check his body can't cash, but he could beat that 24-year-old mark during Saturday's Adidas Oregon Track Classic at Mt. Hood Community College.

Boulami, 29, is the world record holder with a 7:55.28 he ran last August in Belgium. On Saturday, the native of Morocco would need good weather, ideal pace from a rabbit and a push from competitors to finish in 8:05, but he is healthy and capable.

'It's my first race of the year, so I don't know,' says Boulami, who has been in Portland all week to train. 'I can't run under 8 minutes, but I am in good shape. I should be able to run É well, under 8:10 is easy.'

Chances for a fast race were dealt a blow earlier this week when world junior record holder Stephen Cherono of Kenya, who has run 7:58.66, pulled out of the meet. The biggest push should come from Tim Broe, who hopes to bring down another long-standing mark Ñ Henry Marsh's American record of 8:09.17, which has stood since 1985. Broe's personal record is 8:14.

To tour 7 1/2 laps on a flat track in eight minutes is an achievement. To do it while hurdling barriers and negotiating water pits is astounding. Only five runners have done it Ñ Boulami and four Kenyans, all in the last five years.

Boulami won the grand prix finals and was ranked No. 1 in the world at the end of last season, ahead of five Kenyans. 'They are the best runners in the event,' he says. 'I have to constantly prove myself against them.'

Boulami has a degree in sports science. His girlfriend is working toward her degree in medicine in Morocco. He enjoys reading science literature and listening to 'slow' music (such as the Bee Gees).

He is a national hero in Morocco, second only to Hicham El Guerrouj, who holds the world record in the mile.

'My brother (Khalid, bronze medalist at 5,000 meters in the '96 Olympics) and I are behind him,' Broulami says. 'All the top athletes, especially those who can win Olympic and world championship medals, are very famous. Most of the time, that is good. Sometimes, it is not. There are times when it would be nice to have more privacy.'

With the fame comes fortune, though. Last season, Boulami earned more than $200,000, including a $50,000 bonus for his world record. And his endorsement contract with Adidas extends through 2004.

NOTES: The Classic will have 15 events (eight men, seven women). The 100 has world leader Shawn Crawford (9.94), U.S. indoor 60-meter champion Terrence Trammell and Olympic 400 relay gold medalist Brian Lewis. The 400 features Olympic silver medalist Alvin Harrison. Kenya's Leonard Muchera, who won the mile here last year in 3:53, will face nine sub-four minute competitors. Charles Austin, the Olympic gold medalist and American record holder (7-10 1/2), heads a field of high jumpers that includes four others who have cleared 7-8 1/2. In the shot put, three-time world champion John Godina and Olympic silver medalist Adam Nelson are favorites. U.S. champion Marla Runyan of Eugene and Ethiopian Werknesh Kidane will lead a fast field in the women's 5,000. The women's pole vault has three competitors who have gone over 15 feet, and the women's discus features American record holder Suzy Powell. É ESPN2 will broadcast the event from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. É Athletes from 19 countries will compete for $97,500 in guaranteed prize money, including $3,000 for each winner. A world record, or an American record in the steeplechase, is worth $50,000. É The only Portland entry is Dan Browne, a West Linn High graduate who will run the 3,000.

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