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Berryhill to run featured mile at Pre Classic

EUGENE - Former Crater High standout Bryan Berryhill won't be the featured attraction when he competes today in the featured event, the mile, at the prestigious Prefontaine Classic.

That honor goes to Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco, who was ranked No. — in the world at 1,500 meters for the fourth consecutive year in 2000.

But Berryhill certainly is no slouch himself.

The collegiate senior, who next week will compete in the 1,500 meters in the NCAA Championships here, has some fine credentials himself. He is the reigning indoor mile champion, has the fastest 1,500 time in the United States this year and the third fastest mile time in the country.

His best in the 1,500 for 2001 is 3:37.23. He's run the mile in 3:56.64.

Berryhill will go against the best in El Guerrouj, who maintains that being No. — in the world just was not good enough.

El Guerrouj carried the burden of being a loser - for the second time - in the Olympic final.

Going into that race, El Guerrouj was the owner of a three-year unbeaten streak. He was expected to win.

"I feel the pressure when I'm running in the Olympics or the World Championships because I know the whole country is behind me," El Guerrouj said. "The day before the final in Sydney, (Moroccan king Mohammed VI) called me into his room and reminded me that all the people were writing about the gold. I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders."

Today, not as much will be at stake and there won't be outside pressure, but El Guerrouj is putting plenty of pressure upon himself by predicting that he will run between — minutes, 48 seconds, and 3:49 for the mile at the Prefontaine. It would be the fastest mile ever run in the United States.

As the Sydney Olympic race unfolded, it appeared El Guerrouj would win the gold that was denied him in 1996 when he tangled with Noureddine Morceli at the start of the bell lap, clipped the Algerian's heel with his knee, fell to the track and wound up last.

This time, El Guerrouj led into the stretch, but was overtaken by Kenya's Noah Ngeny and finished second - not exactly the result sought by a man who considers himself the greatest 1,500 and mile runner ever.

It hardly helped that some of the other runners and his coaches tried to console El Guerrouj as he wept uncontrollably, first on the track, then under the grandstand.

He felt he had let down his country, his king, his family, his friends, his coaches and himself.

"A gold medal is very important," El Guerrouj said. "It is half your career. I'm still motivated to be the gold medalist in 2004."

Today, he says, he can reach his time goal if there's no headwind and if the pacesetters do their jobs.

El Guerrouj has asked for the first "rabbit" to take him through the 800 in 1:52, and for the second pacesetter to run at least 1,100 or 1,200 meters.

The fastest outdoor mile is 3:50.86 by Morceli at Atlanta in 1996. two months before the Olympics. Surprisingly, the fastest mile in the United States was run indoors, 3:49.78, by Ireland's Eamonn Coghlan at East Rutherford, N.J., in 1983.

El Guerrouj set the world record of 3:43.13 at Rome in 1999.

After the Prefontaine, his next race will be at Rome June 29, when he will attempt to break his 1,500 world record of 3:26.00, also set at the Italian capital in 1998.

In the Prefontaine meet, El Guerrouj will face a formidable 15-man field, including Kenya's Bernard Lagat, the Olympic bronze medalist, and Canada's Kevin Sullivan, fifth at Sydney. Berryhill defeated Lagat, who ran for Washington State, in both 1998 and '99, and has also beaten Sullivan.

Also competing is Alan Webb, the only American high school miler to break four minutes indoors.

El Guerrouj is unfazed.

"I want to do something special here," said El Guerrouj, who is competing in the United States for only the second time.

He doesn't plan to make this his last appearance. If all goes well, he said, he would return to the Prefontaine meet next year and chase the world record for the 3,000 or the two-mile best.

While the mile will be among the featured events, many of the other fields are star-studded.

The entries include Marion Jones, winner of a record five Olympic medals, in the 200; Maurice Greene, the Olympic and world champion and world record-holder, in the 100; Stacy Dragila, the gold medalist, world champion and world record-holder, in the pole vault; and 2000 Olympic winners Maria Mutola of Mozambique (800) and Virgilijus Alekna of Lithuania (discus).

In addition, there are Gail Devers, the 1992 and 1996 Olympic champion in the 100, competing in the 100 hurdles; Allen Johnson, the 1996 gold medalist, in the 110 hurdles; 1999 world champion Inger Miller in the 200; John Godina, the 1995 and 1997 world champion in the shot put, competing in the discus; Olympic relay gold medalists Jon Drummond, Bernard Williams, LaTasha Colander-Richardson and Chandra Sturrup of the Bahamas; and Marla Runyan in the 3,000.