Athletics: Campbell sets gold standard

European Athletics Championship: Christie's championship record broken by sprinter he now coaches
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The Independent Online
THE EUROPEAN Champion-ship 100 metres title, property of Linford Christie since 1986, last night passed into the hands of the sprinter he now coaches, Darren Campbell.

The 25-year-old from Manchester broke Christie's championship record with a time of 10.04sec to take Britain's first gold at a major international outdoor event since Jonathan Edwards won the world triple jump title in 1995.

Seven weeks ago, not one of the new generation of 100 metres runners seeking to fill the gap following Christie's retirement last summer, was considered good enough to represent their country at the European Cup - that honour went to the world high hurdles record holder, Colin Jackson.

How swiftly the picture has changed. Last night, Campbell was pushed all the way to the line by last year's world junior champion, Dwain Chambers, who took silver in 10.10sec, three places ahead of Marlon Devonish, who recorded 10.24 after setting a personal best of 10.22 in the semi-final.

Christie has moved pretty fast in his time, but it would have been interesting if anyone had put a watch on his sprint from the BBC commentary box here last night to embrace his protege on the track.

As the pair gambolled playfully in celebration, leaping towards each other at one point for a Tellytubbies-style collision of midriffs, the former World and Olympic champion pointed a finger towards the athlete he had helped persuade back into the sport three years ago.

The message was clear. As Christie had said back in 1992, when Campbell had added world junior 100 and 200m silver medals to the European junior titles he had won the year before: "He can be the one to pick up where I leave off. As long as he wants it enough."

Last night Campbell did just that. And he wanted it enough to tell his mentor beforehand that he would break the Championship record of 10.05 he had set in winning the 1990 European title in Split.

"Linford thought I was joking," Campbell said. "But I was serious.'' He went on to pay tribute to the help he had received from both Christie and Sir Eddie Kulukundis, the wealthy businessman who has provided unofficial funding to many British athletes, for bringing him back to the sport in 1995 after a two-year hiatus during which he played football for non-League side Newport FC and, briefly, for Plymouth Argyle's reserves.

"I was disillusioned with athletics, and with the lack of support I was receiving," Campbell said. "But when I got an injury, Linford paid for me to go out for treatment in Germany - and the rest is history." Campbell joined Christie's training group in Australia for the winter of 1994-95 and then set about achieving the potential at senior level his junior performances had indicated.

The talent was always there, but he suffered for a long time from a distinct lack of confidence. His victory at last month's AAA trials, however, had a profound effect on his mental state.

"It's all about self-belief, and for the first time after winning there I knew I could go out with the big boys and challenge them," he said.

"Linford told me off after the AAA because I didn't keep running after catching all the other guys. I watched the tape of the race over and over again to make sure I didn't make the same mistake. I told Linford I would put it right here - and I did. I knew that if I was in contention at 60 metres I would win."

Campbell, who started smoothly, was exactly where he needed to be at that point and maintained his form to finish ahead of Chambers, who moved clear of the third-placed Haralambros Papadias, Greece's world indoor 60m champion over the final 30 metres.

"I'm pleased. Very pleased," said Campbell. "It's part of the plan, and I have got to thank Linford." The second part of the plan, he said, involves taking on the world's elite - just as Christie himself did after breaking through to the top level by winning this title in 1986, at the age of 26.

But Campbell, who has endured six years of attempts to describe him as the new Christ-ie, stepped clear of the inevitable question once again. "Please don't tag me with that line," he said. "Linford is a one-off." The only faint disappointment in Campbell's evening came when Chambers refused to accompany him on a lap of honour. It was an indication of the intensity of the younger man's frustration - and ambition.

With others such as Christian Malcolm, newly established as world junior champion at 100 and 200m, waiting on the sidelines, British sprinting suddenly finds itself laden with unexpected riches. Jackson can concentrate on his hurdling in future.

n Dennis Mitchell, the American sprinter, has tested positive for excessive levels of the steroid testosterone in his second urine sample following an out-of-competition test on 1 April in Gainesville, Florida, the Inter- national Amateur Athletic Federation confirmed in Budapest yesterday. Mitchell, the 1992 Olympic bronze medallist in the 100 metres in Barcelona, will be banned for two years unless he is able to win an appeal to the doping board of USA Track and Field.

More reports, results, page 22