The showdown in the women's 10,000 meters between Liz McColgan of Great Britain and Elana Meyer of South Africa should be a barnburner. McColgan came away from the first women's Olympic 10,000, in 1988, with the silver medal and a determination not to abandon her front-running tactics but to execute them better.
McColgan, 28, has rarely allowed anyone to outkick her as gold medalist Olga Bondarenko of the former U.S.S.R. did in '88 (after Seoul, Bondarenko took two years off to have a child, but will be running in Barcelona). Over the past 18 months McColgan set world records for the indoor 5,000, the five miles and the half marathon, and when she destroyed a strong field last August in the world championship 10,000 in Tokyo, winning by better than 20 seconds in 31:14.31, she looked like the best distance runner in the world.
But is she? Out of South Africa came word of a courageous front-runner possessed of a staggering range. This would be Meyer, 25, who led the world last year in both the 3,000 and the 5,000. But because South Africa was still a pariah in international sport, most of her races were glorified time trials. This year, Meyer has improved her times in the 1,500 and the 5,000 to 4:02.15 and 14:44.15, respectively, with her time in the 5,000 a world best for '92.
But in Barcelona, the wispy Meyer may not fare well if the 10,000 turns physical. In the past she has not had to race so much as simply run. The Olympics will be a complicated undertaking for her, the more so because of the expected commotion surrounding South Africa's return to the games after a 32-year absence.
Meyer attended the world championships last summer as a spectator. "McColgan runs well," she allowed after the 10,000, "but she doesn't impress me that much. I could have done just as well."
Now she has a chance to prove it.