Athletics: Black in the winner's enclosure once more: Ladejo loses battle of European 400 metres champions and Christie makes clear his world record intentions

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The Independent Online
A YEAR ago Roger Black was so debilitated by a viral illness that he could hardly read. Yesterday, at the KP National Championships and trials, he ran the 400 metres in 44.94sec, the second fastest time recorded this season.

The journey between the two extremes has been tortuous, involving recuperative trips to Australia and France. But the arrival yesterday was pure joy and relief.

As he reached the line, Black was beginning to shudder with the effort after an incautiously swift opening 200 metres. Behind him, finishing in 45.36, was the European indoor champion, Du'Aine Ladejo. 'I didn't like the loss, but I loved the race,' Ladejo said. 'I take my hat off to him.'

Black recalled the moment four weeks earlier in France when his coach, Mike Whittingham, had told him that winning the National Championships would qualify him automatically to challenge for a third consecutive European title.

'I really didn't know how well I could perform, because I had missed so much training through the illness. But Mike said I could surprise myself. So I said okay.'

His performances in the previous day's heats, his first championship 400m races for over a year, had reassured him that he was physically able to compete. What, he was asked, were his plans after racing in the European Cup two weeks' hence. 'I don't know,' he said. 'I don't have to qualify for the European Championships now. I don't have to worry about it.' With

David Grindley and Derek Redmond out with injury, possibly for the season, it was Black's turn in the sun. He basked in it.

The javelin competition between Steve Backley and Mick Hill - both, touch wood, relatively fit and well at the same time - was as close as expected. Hill, the world bronze medallist, won the event - and presumably European Cup selection - with his first throw of 84.60m. Backley, who reached 84.24 with his last effort, looked a little downcast afterwards, but pronounced himself satisfied with the performance, given that he has only recently cleared himself of the injuries that so frustratingly compromised his performance in the World Championships last summer. 'I need to compete more to build up my confidence,' Backley said. 'As Mick knows himself, that's the last thing that comes back after you are injured.'

After all those occasions four years ago when he, rather than his training partner, was the gracious loser, it was clearly a thrill for Hill to be a winner. 'As I was throwing into the wind, I was delighted with 84 metres,' he said. 'But we are both well off the pace at the

moment. In two months' time will be when it matters.'

Both will presumably be in the first wave of European Championship and Commonwealth Games selections being announced today.

Peter Crampton, seeking to fill the gap left by Kriss Akabusi's

retirement in the 400m hurdles, booked his championships passage with a victory which gave promise of many more good things to come. In the absence of his leading challenger, Gary Cadogan - one of four leading Haringey athletes who reported minor injuries shortly before the championships - Crampton was pushed to a personal best of 49.82 by Sheffield's own Steve Coupland.

Kelly Holmes and Yvonne Murray produced an enthralling finish in the 1500m, where Holmes, an Army corporal, won in 4min 01.41sec by a margin of 0.03sec. 'I told Yvonne afterwards that I won because my chest was bigger than hers,' Holmes said with a grin. She ran in the Army Championships in midweek, but had to enter the men's 1500m to get any opposition. Her time of 4:07 earned her sixth place, ahead of several Paras.

Katharine Merry, who also trains regularly with male athletes, completed the first sprint double in these championships since Kathy Cook 13 years ago, with a 200m personal best of 22.85. At 20, despite a long-standing back injury, Merry is fulfilling the promise she has shown since she broke a world age best record for 200m at 14.

Craig Winrow, who has struggled to match Merry's senior progress after winning the European junior 800m title in 1989 at the age of 17, made the selectors pause for thought by outsprinting a decent field.

In purely athletic terms, the performance of the meeting had to be Linford Christie's 100m time of 9.91 on Saturday, albeit with an illegal following wind of 3.1 metres per second. It was the second fastest time in the world this year, behind

Leroy Burrell's 9.86, which was also wind assisted, and served notice of the 34-year-old's capacity, if not express intention, to break the world record of 9.86 this season.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 31

(Photograph omitted)