Allahgreen has attitude for altitude

NEW FACES FOR '95: Liverpudlian well equipped to cope with being the `n ew Gunnell'.

Any British female athlete showing youthful promise in the high hurdles will sooner or later face an extra barrier. She will have to get over the comparisons with the youthful Sally Gunnell.

Diane Allahgreen, the 19-year-old Liverpudlian who in successive years has won European junior gold and world junior bronze medals at 100 metres hurdles, is as well equipped to deal with the ordeal as any young woman could be.

Having lately departed the junior ranks - never an easy transition even for the most accomplished individuals - she has in her favour a sound temperament, natural speed, a wise coach (in Bob Birrell) and bags and bags of talent and determination.

Last spring, when Allahgreen met Gunnell during an awards ceremony at Buckingham Palace - yes, she does have the good grace to be bashful about the circumstances - the Olympic and world 400m hurdles champion and former Commonwealth 100m hurdles champion encouraged her to believe that she too could become an Olympian.

There was further motivation for Allahgreen last spring from another of Britain's Olympic champions, Linford Christie.

She and another promising hurdler, Sophia Smith, had been sent by the British federation to train alongside athletes such as Christie, Dalton Grant, Ade Mafe and Michelle Griffith in Tallahassee, Florida."Linford gave us a lot of advice," she said."He and some of the others decided we weren't very dedicated. It was probably because we wanted to see a bit of America - like the Universal Studios in Orlando - rather than work on the track.

"He told us about when he was young and not that dedicated. He said you have to train every day, and that if you take a day off a competitor would take advantage. We had to be at the track for 11.00 with our starting blocks. Otherwise we got told off."

"If there had been any fundamental flaw in Allahgreen's attitude, however, it would surely have been uncovered by the bizarre events she experienced on one particular day at the 1993 European junior championships in San Sebastian, Spain. Having won the 100m hurdles final, she was going to her blocks in the sprint relay when she was told that the high hurdles was to be re-run because of a collision which had not involved her.

Allahgreen helped Britain win gold in the relay, but then faced a big problem in getting herself reattuned for another hurdles final.

"I had lost momentum," she said."But Brian Hall, one of the two British coaches there, told me I had to get angry." She got angry - and faster, improving her original time by more than a 10th of a second to win - again - in a personal best of 13.42 seconds.

Last season she improved still further, breaking Gunnell's 10-year-old junior record of 13.30 when she ran 13.25sec in the world junior semi-final.

"I'd hate to think that I would be a good junior and not a good senior," said Allahgreen, who will start a combined degree in sports science and religious education at London University this autumn."It is every athlete's worst nightmare to have people saying, `Oh, she was once good.' If I can be one of the best at this age, I feel there is no reason why, if I stick at it, I can't be one of the best at an older age."

As secretary of the British Federation's junior commission, Pat Green got to know Allahgreen well during the three years she was involved with British teams.

"Usually in that time you get to see a side of a girl that makes you think - ooh," Green said."But I have never seen any side to her in that way.

"Diane has a lovely, even temperament. Even when she lost the world juniors last year, she didn't allow any of her upset to reflect back on the team. The first thing she said was: `Well, that was my fault, wasn't it? I went too high over the last hurdle,didn't I?' "

The pain was there, all right. But it was expressed privately, and used positively."When I came out of the blocks I knew that it wasn't going to go that well," she recalled."I wasn't concentrating properly. I was too aware of everything around me. I feltlike I wanted to stop in the middle of the race and say `start again.' "

Sadly for her on this occasion, there was no repeat of the replay of 1993. But she has put the disappointment to good use, just as Steve Backley did after failing to take the javelin gold medal he had been expected to earn at the 1988 world junior championships.

"Something like that makes you more hungry to win again," she said."You don't want to go through that hurt and pain again. They say you win some and you lose some, but the whole point really is to win them all."

Allahgreen was not too far away from that aim last season, winning the AAA under-20 championship, a fourth successive English Schools title and the Northern senior title.

"Our main aim is to keep chipping away at her time with the eventual aim of getting under 13 seconds and making Olympic teams," Birrell said.

"Diane has surprised me with her progression every year. Maybe she will surprise me again at this year's world championship trials. She may still be a small fish in the sea," Birrell said."But she is a fish with a good background."

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