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banner Monday, 6 August, 2001, 22:40 GMT 23:40 UK
A very ugly rivalry
Violeta Beclea-Szekely
Szekely (centre) is threatening legal action against her rival
By BBC Sport Online's Tom Fordyce in Edmonton

Athletics' most infamous and entertaining feud comes to a head on Tuesday in the women's 1500m final when Violeta Beclea-Szekely takes on her bitter rival and compatriot, Gabriela Szabo.

All objective assessments of the race have been lost in a vicious war of words that has dominated the front pages of newspapers in their home country of Romania.

In a television interview last year, Szabo is alleged to have said that the reason Szekely failed to get an invite to a meet in Stuttgart was because organisers thought she was "too ugly".

She do very many bad things and say many, many bad things about me
  Violeta Beclea-Szekely

When Szabo repeated the claim in the august pages of the Romanian edition of Playboy, Szekely hit her with a claim for 100,000 in "moral and material reparations".

So upsetting had the comments been that they had made her daughter cry.

Under Romanian law, Szabo faces a possible prison sentence if found guilty of slander.

So she struck back in July with her own lawsuit, seeking symbolic damages of 10p because she wanted "justice".

Promoters soon joined in the fun, offering the runners 25,000 apiece to take part in a "peace race" in Bucharest.

They turned it down - which means the 1500m final will be the first time they have met on the track since the row exploded.

September showdown

Earlier in the week things seemed to have calmed down. Szabo said she was no longer suing and said that Szekely had also dropped her lawsuit.

"I don't have any argument with anybody," she told reporters. "It was a mistake. There is a good relationship."

Not as far as Szekely is concerned. After winning her heat at the weekend she insisted her court action was still on - and that a date was set for a hearing in September.

"I don't speak with her. Never. It's too much for me," she said.

"She do very many bad things and say many, many bad things about me."

Gabriela Szabo
Szabo: Not on Szekely's Christmas card list
Szabo's agent Jos Hermens, already under a deluge of media questions about Szabo's possible boycott of the 5000m, is reaching the end of his tether.

"For Szekely to keep talking about this, it's ridiculous," he said.

"Gabi has apologised. If that's not enough for Szekely, then go to court - good luck to her.

"They should all respect each other. They're both great athletes."

The two had been at loggerheads since Szabo called Szekely a "druggie" when she failed a dope test in 1995.

Both are world-class 1500m runners, although Szabo is better known for her exploits over 5000m, where she is Olympic and World champion.

On this season's form, Szekely, Olympic 1500m silver medallist, will begin as favourite. But with such fighting talk in the air, anything is possible.

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