Athletics: Britain say it with black ribbons

European Cup: Baillie tragedy casts shadow over three victories for the men's reigning champions
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The Independent Online
THE EUROPEAN CUP of track and field was slipping from the grasp of Great Britain's men's team in the Stade Charlety yesterday. It was, however, an infinitely greater loss that concerned the British camp on the opening day of the two-day competition.

Only last Sunday seven members of the squad - Dwain Chambers, John Mayock, Mark Richardson, Jonathan Edwards, Julian Golding, Mark Hylton and Katharine Merry - were competing in Nuremberg with Ross Baillie. They shared in his joy as he recorded a season's best in the 110m hurdles, just 0.04sec outside his Scottish record, finishing in fourth place behind his training partner Colin Jackson and the Germans Falk Balzer and Ralf Leberer. His next stop might have been Paris with his friends - the British selectors considered him as a replacement for Jackson before picking Tony Jarrett. Instead, they were mourning his death.

It is not the first time an athlete of great talent has been cut down at such a tragically young age. Lillian Board, an Olympic 400m silver medallist as a teenager in 1968, was 22 when she died of cancer in 1971. Steve Prefontaine, the Pan American 5,000m champion in 1971, was 24 when he was killed in a car crash in 1975. And the Belgian Ivo Van Damme was 22 when he, too, lost his life in a road accident in 1976, the year he won Olympic silver medals at 800m and 1500m. But the death of the 21-year- old Baillie on Friday morning, after suffering a seizure caused by an allergic reaction to peanuts, left the British squad in a state of shock yesterday.

A two-minute silence was observed at the pre-event team meeting and some athletes left the room in tears. Those who competed yesterday did so wearing black ribbons as a mark of respect. "I'm going to wear it for the rest of the season," an emotional Chambers said after winning the 100m and dedicating his victory to Baillie. "I hope the rest of the team will too. I'm broken-hearted. I've come up through the junior ranks with Ross. Just last weekend we were chatting about him running 13.4sec and winning the European under-23 title. And a week later..."

Chambers was unable to complete the sentence and the Scottish Athletic Federation has respectfully decided that the 110m hurdles shall be left unfinished at the Scottish Championships next Saturday. Baillie had been due to defend the 110m title against his 18-year-old brother Chris, a British junior international, but it was announced yesterday that the event has been dropped from the programme.

The British team did their best in the exceptionally trying circumstances. "Ross would have expected us to give 100 per cent," Glen Stewart, who runs in the 3,000m today, maintained. "He always did. And that's what we're going to do for him."

At the halfway stage, however, the British men stand in third place with 49 points - 10 behind Germany and 41/2 behind Italy. They have overturned a first-day deficit before. In Munich two years ago they were lying fourth on the Saturday night. On that occasion, though, they were only two and a half points off the lead. Today, even with Edwards (in the triple jump), Golding (in the 200m) and the 4 x 400m relay team likely to score maximum points, they are unlikely to overcome the strong German team.

There were just three British victories yesterday, courtesy of Chambers in the 100m, Richardson in the 400m and Jason Gardener, Darren Campbell, Marlon Devonish and Julian Golding in the 4 x 100m relay. Richardson was a comfortable winner, easing down in the home straight and crossing the line in 44.96sec, equalling his best time for the season. And the relay team won convincingly, clocking a swift 38.16sec, even without Chambers - who withdrew "purely as a precautionary measure" after feeling his leg muscles tighten after his individual success.

The hopes pinned on John Mayock in the 1500m came unstuck on the final lap, the European Indoor 3,000m champion trailing in fourth, behind the Italian Giuseppe D'Urso, Rudiger Stenzel of Germany and the Frenchman Nadir Bosch. Steve Smith could only finish fourth, though the Olympic high jump silver medallist had reason to be happy with a clearance of 2.28m as he continued his competitive rehabilitation following the neck injury suffered last summer.

There were noteworthy contributions by lesser known members of the men's team, in particular Mike Openshaw of Chester-le-Street. A protege of Lindsay Dunn, the coach who helped to guide Brendan Foster and Charlie Spedding to Olympic medals, he marked his Great Britain track debut with a tactically astute run for fourth place in the 5,000m. Chris Rawlinson, in the 400m hurdles, also made an impression, clocking a personal best, 49.65sec, in fifth place and taking the scalp of the French world champion Stephane Diagana.

For 40m of the women's 100m Britain's Joice Maduaka matched strides with another leading light of the French team. The Londoner, who has made significant progress lately, faded to third place by the finish but was rewarded with a time of 11.22sec, a personal best, as Christine Arron powered to victory in 10.97sec.

Ashia Hansen was runner-up to Cristina Nicolau in the triple jump with 14.58m but there were no other top-three placings as the British women's team finished the day in sixth place.

It might have been different had Christine Bloomfield not dropped the baton in attempting to hand on to Maduaka, her Essex Ladies club-mate, at the final changeover in the 4 x 100m relay. There was, however, a performance that deserved more than mere passing mention by Sinead Dudgeon in the 400m hurdles. She finished fourth in 56.46sec, her third Scottish record of the summer. "It was very difficult to go out and race," she said.

Ross Baillie, her training partner for three bleak Glaswegian winters, would have been proud of her.