Athletics: Arnold attacks the 'put nothing in' philosophy

Mike Rowbottom on fall-out from the weekend's world indoor athletics championships

Following their relatively disappointing return of three silver medals from the world indoor championships in Paris over the weekend, Malcolm Arnold, the Great Britain head coach, yesterday delivered an uncharacteristically blunt assessment of the team's performance, singling out the former world and Olympic champion Sally Gunnell among others.

Second-best for Jamie Baulch, Colin Jackson and Ashia Hansen was not enough to placate Arnold, who also attacked this country's lack of financial support for the sport.

"I know this was the world championships, and that the competition is fierce, but I expected more," Arnold said.

"The men's relay team performed very badly indeed, Steve Smith and Dalton Grant in the high jump didn't do what we hoped for and I was disappointed in Sally [Gunnell] and Phyllis Smith too.

"They under-performed, it's as simple as that. If they had performed at their normal level they could have won medals."

But while Arnold was not happy with the lack of medals, he suggested that the public were perhaps demanding too much from the sport. "We just haven't got the resources our competitors have," Arnold said. "If you put nothing in, you deserve to get nothing out, and in terms of money this country is putting nothing in.

"It's actually getting plenty out for nothing, and there's so much commitment from everybody involved. But we have very poor facilities and we need to put that right. All that we are asking for is half the price of Alan Shearer's left leg."

Arnold's protests notwithstanding, medals now are only half the story. After claiming one of the 24 individual win bonuses of $50,000 (pounds 32,000) in Paris, the Ukrainian shot putter Vita Pavlysh was asked what meant most to her: the medal or the money. "To speak frankly," she replied, "I needed the money."

The response of most other gold medallists was less explicit. Wilson Kipketer, for instance, whose two world 800 metre records illuminated the weekend, maintained that it did not matter if there was money on offer or not. For all that, he walked away with $50,000 for his victory and a further $50,000 for breaking the world record.

The effect of the International Amateur Athletic Federation's introduction of prize-money to this event spoke for itself. In contrast to the pale offerings in Barcelona two years ago, the 1997 championships attracted an entry rich in Olympic and world medallists.

The resulting action was correspondingly rich. Besides Kipketer's sublime running, and two other world records in the women's 400m relay and pole vault, the Palais-Omnisports witnessed a series of memorable images. Maria Mutola, dazed with remembrance after winning an 800m title she dedicated to her late father; disbelief on the face of Mary Slaney as she saw a woman six years her senior at 44, Yekaterina Podkopayeva, pass her five metres from the line to win the 1500m; Haile Gebrselassie destroying a hugely talented field in the men's 3,000m.

The financial incentives offered in Paris helped to pull the sport together. But commercial forces are also creating an opposite effect within the sport right now in setting up a series of lucrative head-to-head contests. On 1 June, a Toronto promoter has arranged a $1m (pounds 640,000) challenge over 150m between the Olympic champions Donovan Bailey and Michael Johnson; a day earlier, in Belgium, Gebrselassie will meet Noureddine Morceli in another $1m challenge over two miles. There are worrying factors in this new climate - the sport risks fragmenting into a series of shoe company set-pieces, and Gebrselassie's indication at the weekend that he would not be interested in defending his world 10,000m title this summer does not bode well.

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