Athletics: Sluggish Wariso makes fast exit

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The Independent Online
ON TOP of the world rankings coming into the European Indoor Championships, Solomon Wariso crashed to terra firma with a premature bump yesterday. The sprinter with the Superman tattoo on his left arm was unable to fly round the track in the Luis Puig Sports Palace.

Britain's golden shot for the 400 metres title was a mere Clark Kent when he pulled on his spikes for the heats. He finished third and failed to qualify for the semi-finals.

"Perhaps I should get it lazered off and put The Joker on instead," he said, pointing to his physical artwork. "Maybe someone put kryptonite in my food this morning."

The special powers Wariso summoned on his 400m debut in the AAA Championships certainly deserted him. Off the pace from the gun, he trailed across the line behind Carlos Silva of Portugal and the Pole Tomasz Czubak in 48.81sec - a sluggish shadow of the man who clocked a scorching 45.71sec in Birmingham three weeks ago.

"Get me a gun and a blindfold," the sprinter-cum-freelance-writer shouted to Graham Knight, one of the British team coaches, as he left the track and headed for the exit door. "It'll be so embarrassing going home."

Solomon, for all his wisdom, was asking for trouble in making two trans- Atlantic trips in the past fortnight - to train with his coach Innocent Egbunike in Los Angeles last week and then to return to Europe on Tuesday.

"I felt really sluggish," he said, "but I'm not going to make any excuses. I wasn't sure I was going to win here but I expected to go home with a medal."

So did Sean Baldock. But now Britain's second-ranked 400m runner will be hoping to return to Sussex with the gold.

On form this season, Baldock is the fastest man left in the field. A comfortable winner of his heat in 47.26, the man from Hastings can expect a battle with the Italian Ashraf Saber, an equally impressive qualifier.

Paul Slythe, the third 400m man in the British team, bade his farewell with Wariso. Fourth place in his heat, in 47.62, was not quite good enough to secure a semi-final place.

Nick Buckfield was the other British "casualty" in the opening session of competition, failing to reach the heights he achieved with his fifth place in the pole vault in the World Championships last summer. Two failures at 5.55m left him needing to improve his British indoor record by 4cms to 5.64m to reach the final.

He was unable to rise to the occasion, though clearing 5.55m at the third attempt at least salvaged a season's best for Buckfield, another Sussex man in the British team.

There were no medals at stake on the triple jump runway, though finishing top of the women's qualifying pile will have done little harm to Ashia Hansen's hopes of striking gold. The Shaftesbury Barnet Harrier has particularly tough competition in her event but she goes into this afternoon's final with the psychological edge of having eclipsed her rivals yesterday.

Her second round effort, 14.48m, put her 10cms ahead of the Czech world champion Sarka Kasparkova. Rodica Mateescu, the Romanian who leads the European indoor rankings this season, was the third best qualifier, with 4.12m.

"It's very close between us," Hansen said, "but I'm trying not to think about it too much."

At least the Indiana-born Briton exorcised the ghost of her last European Indoor challenge. She failed to register a valid jump in Stockholm two years ago.