Athletics: Athletes mourn death of Baillie

European Cup: British team to wear black symbols on vests in memory of young Scottish hurdler
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THE MOOD of Britain's athletes competing in the European Cup here this weekend has been profoundly altered by the news of the death yesterday of Ross Baillie, the young Scottish athlete who had suffered an allergic reaction to peanuts, alongside whom several have trained and competed.

When competition starts in the Charletty Stadium this afternoon, every British vest will be adorned with a black symbol as a mark of respect.

But the instinct to compete has, in some quarters, been sharpened rather than diminished by the fate of the young Scottish hurdler. Julian Golding, who runs in the 200m, recalled yesterday how he had shared a room with Baillie before competing in Nuremberg. "We were talking and having a laugh. He was saying how well he was going to run this year. I would really like to win my race on Sunday for Ross. It makes you realise you can't take your life for granted."

Mark Richardson, the defending 400m champion, also expressed his sense of shock. "I was in my room complaining about the quality of the kit when I was told about Ross. It was a really humbling experience. It puts everything into perspective. I met Ross for the first time in Nuremberg at the weekend. He was going to be a star, no doubt. He had talent and the right mental attitude."

But as the athletes gathered here tried to take stock of the awful news, they also knew they had to concentrate their resources to achieve a result in a competition that has been good for Britain in recent years.

At the end of a week in which his rising aspirations have been set into context by Maurice Greene's staggering world 100m record, Dwain Chambers had the chance to measure his progress in a less daunting arena.

The 21-year-old Londoner, who last Sunday became only the second European after Linford Christie to break 10.00sec, is strong favourite to secure his first major senior title here.

Chambers, whose time of 9.99sec in Nuremburg puts him comfortably ahead of any European rivals, is one of Britain's maximum points-earners in an event where they are seeking to extend a winning run.

However, Chambers admitted yesterday that Greene's advance had affected every other sprinter. "Just when I made my step forward in the event, Greene has taken it to another level," Chambers said yesterday. "We had just finished training when we got the news. My coach, Mike McFarlane, was quiet for a long time. Like every other sprinter I was gobsmacked. I never believed a man could run that fast.

"I'm glad I wasn't in the race because it must have blown everyone else away. I saw Frankie Fredericks lying on the track for a long time afterwards. I have worked very hard but now I have got to work that much harder."

Two years ago in Munich's Olympic Stadium, a series of inspired British performances, notably from the relatively unknown student Robert Hough, who won the 3,000m steeplechase, allowed the team captain, Linford Christie, to round off his career by lifting the trophy.

Last year in St Petersburg, another fine team performance gave Roger Black, Christie's successor, the same happy task. It also proved to be the last high point in his long career.

Dalton Grant, the British Men's non-playing captain, has no immediate plans to retire, despite now being 32. But the odds appear to be against a British hat-trick. Having taken eight gold medals at last year's European Championships, the British men should be a dominant force. But they will lack the services of four of those champions. Iwan Thomas (400m) and Steve Backley (javelin), have been forced out by injury.

Colin Jackson, who added the world indoor 60m hurdles title to his collection earlier this year, has decided to attend the wedding of his friend Christian Maier, Austria's Olympic skier. Doug Walker, winner of the 200m in Budapest, is suspended pending a hearing for possible doping abuse.

Those Britons who may profit from this weekend's competition are likely to include late replacements such as Kevin Hughes in the pole vault, Darren Ritchie in the long jump and Perris Wilkins in the discus.

For the women's team, Joice Maduaka has the opportunity to maintain the dramatic improvement she showed in the course of last season, when she improved her 100m best from 11.76sec to 11.32sec. At the other end of her career, Judy Oakes, now 41, will make her 11th appearance in the competition, an all-time record.

Britain's women have been sixth, third and fifth in the last three years. Their likely target this weekend is fourth behind Romania, Germany and Russia, who are also on a hat-trick.

Ross Baillie, main section