Ex-Illini Koers comes up just short

   SYDNEY, Australia  For four years, Marko Koers has sought to recapture the form he had at Illinois, where he achieved a delicate balance of speed for 800 meters and strength for 1,500.

   He glimpsed enough of the past today to be more optimistic about his future in track and field.

   Koers, 27, running in his third Olympics for the Netherlands, missed making the final by one place in a 1,500 semifinal. As an Illini senior, he made the final at Atlanta and finished seventh.

   Its just indescribably sad that I missed it by one place, Koers said. I just wanted to repeat so badly what I did four years ago.

   If you have no chance at all, like last in your race  its OK, I dont have a shot  but I was in position to make it.

   The top five in each semifinal advanced to the 12-man final, along with the next two fastest times. Koers was eighth in his semi in 3 minutes, 39.42 seconds, just behind the 3:38.68 by Britains John Mayock, who became the 12th qualifier.

   Koers was the last Illini representative at the Sydney Olympics. Previously eliminated, all in the first round, were Bobby True (Liberia) in the 800, Tonja Buford-Bailey in the 400 hurdles and Perdita Felicien (Canada) in the 100 hurdles.

   In the first 1,500 semifinal, only winner Noah Ngeny of Kenya (3:39.29) was faster than Koers. Second in that heat was the Dutchmans former Big Ten rival, ex-Michigan miler Kevin Sullivan of Canada.

   Sullivan is No. 9 in the world this year at 3:31.71. Koers best is 3:34.44, compared to his Big Ten (and Dutch) record of 3:33.05 from 1996.

   When I was injured at Illinois, Kevin always beat me, Koers said. I still think were in the same league. It really inspires me to see him run 3:31. I think I should be running close to that.

   Koers made a World Championships final at 800 meters in 1997 and won a European indoor silver medal at 800 in 1998. Injuries hampered him in each of the past two outdoor seasons, and he failed to make the 1,500 final at the 1999 Worlds.

   He trained for 13 weeks this year in Gainesville, Fla., and suggested that he lost my weapon by concentrating on workouts that emphasized the 800 over the 1,500.

   It was quite a big mistake, actually, he said.

   Koers said he often reflects on the days under Illini coach Gary Wieneke, who designed workouts for effectiveness   at both middle distances. In NCAA meets, Koers won an indoor 800 and two outdoor 1,500s and three times was runner-up in 800s.

   I want to go back to the time that I ran at Illinois when I ran every week a race, he said. I want to maybe go back to that a little bit to train myself tactically. I ran a lot of races, but they came easily to me.

   In a season in which he lagged from eighth to 11th in major European races, Koers said his closing speed today was the best all year. He briefly moved into the necessary seventh place but fall back one.

   He had to sidestep one fallen runner, a circumstance reminiscent of the final at Atlanta. There, he had to jump over Moroccos Hicham El Guerrouj, who tripped just before one lap remained. El Guerrouj has gone on to set world records and is the gold-medal favorite in Sydney.

   Koers said he would not have imagined he would be as high as 13th at the Olympics.

   He plans to be around for the 2004 Athens Olympics, and certainly for the 2001 World Championships at Edmonton, Alberta.

   He has experienced all the stages of an athlete, from the 19-year-old freshman who didnt know what I was doing, to the one who came back from injury and returned to the elite, to the one trying to duplicate previous form.

   Now is the most difficult stage, Koers said. Im definitely not done.

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