Athletics: Battling Britain able to finish on positive note: World Cup performances by men and women at Crystal Palace divert attention away from drugs

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THE British athletes who gathered for the World Cup closing ceremony created a heartening tableau. At the behest of the trackside photographers, the team captains, Linford Christie and Sally Gunnell, stood next to each other in front of the blue-tracksuited throng as the Union Jack fluttered overhead. A positive image to set against the positive tests.

With doping-related hearings looming for Diane Modahl and Solomon Wariso, it is an image which many in the sport hope will endure. The World Cup is something of a cooked-up event - and the obvious disinterest of the United States diminished it in this as in previous years. But it formed a useful rallying point as far as British athletics was concerned - and Britain's athletes answered the call dutifully.

Second place equalled the men's previous best in the competition; and whatever the women did was going to be a best, as they had never qualified before. Whether that performance will remain in the record books depends on whether Modahl, whose performance was crucial to their qualification, manages to avoid a retrospective four-year ban for doping offences.

Following her solicitor's complaint about the International Amateur Athletic Federation's delay in forwarding details of the testing, the hearing is in danger of being delayed by a period of legal wrangling.

While the British Athletic Federation was legally correct to remain in the competition pending Modahl's hearing later this month and possible subsequent appeal, it took a moral gamble. Sir Arthur Gold was not the only influential figure to maintain that two positive tests on Modahl were sufficient reason for Britain's women to be pulled out.

It was, nevertheless, a gamble which the British authorities won. Gunnell and Yvonne Murray, the two British individual winners, paid tribute to the support they felt from the crowds, which grew through the event from 15,000 to 18,000 to a capacity 21,000 on the final day.

'This has been a horrendous year, so it did give us a chance to go out and say, 'This is what athletics is all about',' Tony Ward, the BAF spokesman, said. 'The crowds were outstanding. I think it was a feather in the cap of British athletics.'

In the meantime, John Regis, whose defeat of the 200 metres champion Frankie Fredericks was one of the best British performances, has voiced the athletes' support for Modahl.

'I think you are going to hear a bit more about this because we are convinced that Diane is as innocent as the day is long,' Regis said. 'I have known Diane for many a year and there is no way she would contemplate doing what she has been accused of.'

Senior IAAF sources said several member federations had expressed concern at the weak United States team, which finished sixth out eight in the men's event, and last in the women's competition.

The United States is currently guaranteed a place in the competition, but the situation may have changed by the time of the next World Cup, which will take place in Johannesburg in four years' time.

'The feeling amongst the federations is that the Americas should field one team including the United States, with the host country providing the eighth team,' one source said.

'I think there may be a change,' Primo Nebiolo, the IAAF president, said. 'Europe has a European Cup with the first two going through. Why does America not have the Americas Cup where the first country would carry the flag and the others would participate in the Americas team?'

Whatever the make-up of the event, the likelihood is that Britain will be there again. And there is no reason to suppose they will not do at least as well.