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Friday, August 27, 1999 Published at 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK

Heat is on in Seville

High temperatures affected even the 50km walkers who started at 6.30am

By Harry Peart at the World Athletics Championships

The old Spanish city of Seville has so much variety of culture it was unlikely to submit to track and field mania.

Walk down the tiny cobbled streets, across the picturesque squares and on to the main roads - there is little to indicate that the city is staging one of sports major occasions.

Banners and mascots hanging from every lamp-post would look out of place in a city of such formidable architecture.

Yet when Seville was chosen as the venue for the championships ahead of Helsinki, Delhi and Stanford in the United States there were few who doubted it could stage the event successfully.

Hot problem

But there was concern about the heat at this time of the year. Temperatures in the early afternoon can rise to 43°C, and many locals leave for their holidays in August. Those that remain take a siesta.

The four morning sessions were, unsurprisingly, sparsely attended, but in the evenings small groups of supporters make their way towards the stadium to the west of the city along the banks of the Guadalquivir river.

[ image: Heat and low audiences have affected the competition]
Heat and low audiences have affected the competition
There's no rush. The Spaniards have decided what they want to see, when it is taking place, and afterwards drift off to the myriad bars and restaurants. Only the hardened fans, mainly from Germany, Britain, and France stay for the whole session.

But when the Spanish crowd do get behind one of their competitors they make their presence felt. Every attempt by their long jump gold medallist Niurka Montalvo was greeted by roars that belied the fact that the stadium was less than half full.

Cynics claim the noise had been amplified to satisfy the needs of some television companies.

The locals did turn out in force to watch their trio of men's 1,500 metres runners take on the Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj, who won the gold with ease, but at the packed stadium it would have been easy to think Reyes Estevez had won the title instead of a bronze medal.

Everyone wearing Spanish red and gold on the track is treated as a hero. When bored, the crowd revert to the Mexican wave - the press are roundly booed for failing to take part, thus ruining the spectacle.

Less than packed

The size of the crowds has been disappointing for the organisers. Perhaps the Spaniards prefer more danger. At the Real Maestranza Bullring there is a fully equipped operating theatre. At the athletics stadium there is a stretcher on a trolley.

Seville also has many other competing attractions. One of them is that it is always possible to get something to eat, and there's no lack of entertainment either. At an early morning news conference in a hotel beside the river, the music from a discotheque on the other bank was still going strong at 8 o'clock.

Apart from the true athletics fans, most Spaniards think there is more to life than split times and personal bests.

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World Athletics Contents

In this section

Athletics saves face

Brits sprint to relay silver

Injury wrecks Backley medal bid

Wembley to host athletics showpiece

Red leader powers Korean runner to gold

Seville winners: Final day

Red-faced relay runners crash out

Devers wins, but Engqvist earns plaudits

Anton is home hero

Greene flies to historic double

Miller makes it gold

Johnson smashes 400m record

Radcliffe wins silver in 10,000 metres

Heat is on in Seville

Michael Johnson: Life in the fast lane

Jackson hurdles to gold

Magnificent Macey snatches silver

Devastated Edwards gets bronze

A sprint too far for Jones

Colin Jackson: Britain's golden boy

Dean Macey: The great unknown

El Guerrouj stuns Seville

Hansen flops in triple jump

Two disqualified over drugs

May quits after medals row

Injury wrecks Smith's medal dream

Jones fails in four-gold attempt

Lewis takes heptathlon silver