Athletics: Battling Black bows out on wave of emotion

ROGER BLACK bade farewell to British athletics at the Don Valley Stadium last night when, roared on by an emotional crowd he gave a typically battling performance in the men's 400m. In the final race of the evening he had to settle for third place behind Briton's top two quarter-milers Mark Richardson, who won in 45.05sec, and Iwan Thomas.

Members of Black's family including his mother were among a crowd of around 10,000 who turned out on a day of rare summer sunshine to witness the farewell appearance of the Olympic silver medalist and former European champion, as well as to enjoy the rest of the best that British athletics has to offer these days.

The expected battle royal between Britain's Paula Radcliffe and Ireland Sonia O'Sullivan in the women's 3,000m failed to materialise as Radcliffe destroyed the field with a devastating display of front-running, breaking Mary Decker-Slaney's seven-year-old stadium record to win by half the length of the home straight in a time of 8:38.84.

"I don't know exactly how far in front I was and I don't know what happened to Sonia," Radcliffe said. "One minute she was there and the next she was gone. I didn't kick so I can't explain it. I guess she's having a bit of an up and down time at the moment but it's got to be a psychological boost going into the Europeans whatever she decides to run.

"I'm a bit disappointed that I slowed up towards the end because I really thought I was in shape to run a personal best. But I'm still coming down a bit from altitude training so I can't complain too much."

Colin Jackson was beaten over the high hurdles again by Americans. Reggie Torrian won in 13.15 and the world champion Allen Johnson was second in 13.22. Jackson, in 13.24, just held off the challenge of another, Mark Crear, to take third but it was not the sort of performance the world record holder would have been looking for so close to a major championship.

The women's 400m provided an exciting curtain-raiser to the evening, with the British champion, Allison Curbishley, who plans to turn to the 400m hurdles in the winter, making all the running before being pipped on the line by Pauline Davis, the world bronze medallist from the Bahamas. Another Briton, Donna Fraser, was third.

Blessed by the weather, the organisers tried everything from sultry jazz at the start of the evening to constant appeals for crowd participation wherever possible in order to generate the kind of atmosphere found at some of the other European Grand Prix meetings.

To a great extent it worked, with the Britons Jonathan Edwards in the triple jump and Janine Whitlock in the pole vault having their every attempt greeted by an enormous roar. Whitlock and Emma George, the Australian world record holder, both cleared 4.22m but were beaten on countback by Germany's Nastja Rysich.

Edwards duly won his event, but the sore ankle he has struggled with all summer meant that he was a long way short of his best with 17.14m. "The redeeming factor was that I won," he said. "I am at a loss as to why I jumped so badly so I just want to erase it from my memory and get on with the next competition, subject to my ankle feeling okay."

Steve Backley was also on top form, winning the men's javelin with 88.80m, beating the world champion Marius Corbett among others, while in the men's 200m Scotland's Dougie Walker, a metre down on Darren Campbell coming off the bend, closed the gap to win in 20.38 with the Englishman having to settle for a personal best. In the women's 200m Katherine Merry finished a disappointing fourth.

The men's 800m was won in impressive style by the Moroccan Mahjoub Haida in 1min 45.03sec, while the world 400m hurdles champion, France's Stephane Diagana, showed a welcome return to form with victory in 48.70. Paul Gray, one of Linford Christie's proteges, set a Welsh record of 49.76.

Kenya's Paul Tergat, who who will run in Brussels at the end of the month when he hopes to regain the world 10,000m record he once held, won the men's 3,000m in 7:39.50, while the women's 100m hurdles went to Melissa Morrison, of the United States, in 12.74.

Dwaine Chambers took the men's 100m in 10.24 from fellow Briton Marlon Devonish, whose second place was enough to assure him of the overall prize of $10,000 for the three-race Nivea Men's Challenge that has been running at various meetings throughout the summer.

The Emsley Carr Mile was won by another Kenyan, Laban Rotich, in 3:51.74, beating Britain's John Mayock and Anthony Whiteman into second and third respectively.