Athletics: Akabusi's bouquets and bonhomie: Mike Rowbottom sees a heartfelt farewell for one of Britain's most popular athletes

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The Independent Online
THEY gave Kriss Akabusi a bouquet after his 400 metres hurdles race yesterday even though he was not the winner. He would probably have got one if he had come last - this, after all, was the final British appearance for a man who has established himself as one of the most popular athletes of his generation.

The question of just desserts is one which has exercised Akabusi in his last year on the circuit, a year which has been clouded by financial wrangles and disagreements with the British promotions officer, and promoter of yesterday's meeting, Andy Norman. He was quoted this week as estimating that he would get dollars 42,000 (pounds 26,000) for his five meetings this season. 'If my face had fitted, I'd have got dollars 100,000. But I've always refused to be Andy's puppet.'

But yesterday Akabusi was not dwelling on financial matters. He milked the applause cheerfully before his race, going to the blocks in day-glo pink slippers and a white dressing gown - a joking reference to his future couch-potato relationship with the sport which has animated him for the last 10 years. 'I've seen it, I've done it, I've got the T-shirt,' he said.

He tried as hard as ever yesterday, failing marginally to catch Torrance Zellner, of the United States, who finished in 49.20sec as undoubtedly the least popular winner of the day.

But the race underlined a basic truth for Akabusi, who signed off from top level international meetings - his alarm call for this year's European Cup apart - at last summer's Olympics, where he won bronze in a British record of 47.82.

'I am doing the right thing,' he said. 'I really haven't got the motivation to run. My relationship with some people in the British Athletic Federation has obviously soured my last year. But it has been so much harder to come out without the preparation. There is nothing to compare with getting yourself prepared for the big one. No amount of money can match the feeling of having to prepare for one special day.

Knowing you have to do that last rep if you want to get under 48 seconds, and knowing that Roger (Black) is going to pour it on for the last rep too. That's what I've been missing.'

As he contemplates a burgeoning media career that already sees him as an occasional presenter for BBC's Record Breakers and Channel 4's The Big Breakfast, he can foresee a future return to the sport, perhaps as a team manager. But for now he is going to step away.