In Athens, the relay team had been billed as the last golden hope of a world title in a championship coloured a dull silver for an expectant press and public. Iwan Thomas, Mark Richardson and Jamie Baulch, all finalists in the individual event, were joined by Roger Black, the Olympic silver medallist. But after a slightly sluggish start from Thomas, the fastest man in the world coming into the championships, but exhausted after his long sequence of races, the Americans stayed tantalisingly out of reach.
Hill, who has spent the season fending off the criticism of media, fans and his team owner alike and battling to a make a new car competitive, had an extraordinary triumph snatched from his grasp when mechanical trouble struck with victory in sight.
With three laps to go, he led by more than 30 seconds from Jacques Villeneuve, the Canadian lead driver with the once all-powerful Williams team, which had dispensed with Hill's services at the end of last season, and was firmly on course to win his first race for Arrows.
But a hydraulic-pump problem caused Hill's car to slow dramatically. He was powerless to resist as Villeneuve whittled down his advantage before passing him on the final lap. Hill held on to second, still an extraordinary performance given that he had only managed one world championship point this season. He had first hinted at what might be late in Saturday's practice session, when he jumped from seventh to third place on the starting grid with his final flying lap.
"I started to have problems with the hydraulic pump," Hill said. "The throttle became intermittent and I couldn't change gear. I needed a 40-second lead on the final lap, not 30." Tom Walkinshaw, Hill's Arrows team boss, who had publicly criticised him before the British Grand Prix, could not hide his disappointment. "Damon did a fantastic job," he said, "and deserved to win."
England's cricketers finished plumb second and last to Australia when they collapsed to 186 all out after being set 451 to win at Trent Bridge. Australia take the series 3-1 and retain the Ashes.
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