Athletics: Oakes' mature talent glows for new generation

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The Independent Online
On the weekend Judy Oakes won her first national title, Kevin Keegan, John Toshack and Steve Heighway scored Liverpool's goals in a 3-0 FA Cup win against Carlisle United. Simon Turnbull talks to the shot putter who is still going for gold 21 years later.

This year may be the dawn of a new era for British athletics - what with no Christie, no Gunnell, no reigning world or Olympic champion and no money - but one thing about the sport remains reassuringly the same. In Birmingham this weekend Judy Oakes will be challenging for a national title.

It was ever thus, it seems. The View From AAA of England Indoor Championships, held at the National Indoor Arena today and tomorrow, happens to mark the 21st anniversary of the first senior success achieved by the shot- putting phenomenon from Croydon Harriers.

"I don't think I can remember," Oakes said, attempting to cast her mind back to 28 January, 1977, the Friday night she putted 15.87 metres at Cosford to wrest the women's AAA indoor title from Janis Kerr of Mitcham AC.

"I think I had pigtails then," she continued, after a pause for reflective thought. "That's all I can picture. It's such a long time ago, you know."

It is that. In the men's events that weekend the 60m was won by Allan Wells, Daley Thompson finished second in the long jump and a 20-year-old Loughborough University student by the name of Sebastian Coe announced his arrival at senior level with an impressive 800m victory.

"Obviously all those guys have gone on to other things," Oakes said. "I'm daft enough to still be here competing.

"I'm lucky to have found something I can do well. I'll carry on while I'm in one piece, while I can do myself justice and until someone better comes along."

That might be a while yet. One week short of her 40th birthday, Oakes remains the best in Britain - and by some distance. Last summer she topped the British rankings by more than a metre, with 18.42m. This winter she has already putted 18.56m indoors.

Oakes is also a clear leader of the Commonwealth rankings, which bodes well for Kuala Lumpur in September. Barring injury and a sudden loss of form, she will not just be defending the title in Malaysia, but attempting to collect a sixth successive Commonwealth Games medal too.

If that were not sufficient testimony to an enduringly successful athletics career, consider Oakes' record collection of national titles - 40 at last count.

"Each one feels just like the first," she said. And the odds are on her savouring win number 41 tomorrow afternoon, despite competition from an athlete who stood on the medal rostrum at the World Championships last summer.

Denise Lewis may be the world's second-best heptathlete, judging by her silver-medal performance in Athens, but she is only the ninth-best shot putter in Britain. The multi- talented Midlander, like Oakes preparing for the defence of a Commonwealth title this year, has also entered the 60m hurdles and the long jump.

Jonathan Edwards, the other World Championship individual medallist in action, may not confine himself to the triple jump, in which he hopes to threaten Keith Connor's 17-year-old British indoor record, 17.31m. The Gateshead Harrier, who jumped 17.23m in Tampere, Finland, on Wednesday night, is among the entrants for the 60m.

So is the hottest new property in British athletics, the scorchingly fast Dwain Chambers. The 19-year-old Londoner, who set a world junior 100m record of 10.06sec last summer, will be chasing his first senior national title. He had yet to be born when Judy Oakes won her first.

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