Athletics: Chambers steps up heat

The world's sprinting elite have to sit up and take notice of a new arrival
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The Independent Online
PEOPLE ARE looking at Dwain Chambers with new eyes this season. People like Maurice Greene.

As the runners waited silently in the call-up room before Sunday's World Championship 100m final, the man who has re-written the record books this season was concentrating his attention on just one rival.

"Maurice kept on staring and staring at me," Chambers said yesterday. "He didn't look at anyone else. He was trying to psych me out, but I wasn't letting anything get to me. I just thought: `Okay, get on with it, man'. I had my sunglasses on, so he couldn't see my eyes. But I suppose it was good that he was acknowledging me - maybe he sees that if I get it right I could be a threat to him."

Chambers got it more right than ever before in the race that followed. His bronze medal performance in a personal best of 9.97sec - faster than any other 21-year-old in history - means that the world's sprinting elite have to sit up and take notice of a new arrival.

"I'm a member of the club now," Chambers said. "I'm one of the top guys - the No 3 in the world." It has been an extraordinary rise to prominence for a young man who, just four years ago, was price-tagging cans in the Tottenham Hale Asda store. "After three months I couldn't stand any more. I had to go and run." Even two years ago, after winning a second European junior title in a world junior record of 10.06sec, Chambers was a wide- eyed relay squad member at the Athens World Championships.

Now he stands on the brink of becoming a genuine successor to Britain's former world and Olympic champion, Linford Christie. Now he finds himself shaking hands with the International Olympic Committee president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, and the Minister for Sport, Kate Hoey. At 21, he has the keys to the door.

As a schoolboy growing up in Finsbury Park, Chambers found that most of his mates had their eyes on a footballing career, preferably for the club just up the road at Highbury.

But, unlike his sprint relay colleague Darren Campbell, who has had stints playing for sides such as Plymouth Argyle reserves and Weymouth, Chambers has never cherished any ambition in that direction.

"I can't kick a ball," he said yesterday with a grin that disclosed the tooth he had gold-capped on a whim last autumn. "When I used to play, the others used to kick the ball up the wing and tell me to get it. I can only run in a straight line." His natural talent for running was encouraged by one of his PE masters, and he competed with some success at the National Schools Championships - "I used to beat all these guys who were wearing spikes" - before putting his career in the hands of his coach, Selwyn Filbert.

Since 1997, however, his career has been supervised by Mike McFarlane, the man who tied for the 1982 Commonwealth 200m gold with Allan Wells. Working within a group which includes his close friend Julian Golding, who last September earned outright the title McFarlane shared, Chambers has made progress which has taken even his coach aback.

His two main goals for this season, to run under 10 seconds, and to reach the World Championship final, have been achieved; the bronze was a bonus. The training schedules for next year, when he aims to add an Olympic medal to the one he won on Sunday, are already being re-drafted.

One factor which is definitively not involved in his successful rise is the kind of food supplement currently suspected of leading to a spate of recent doping cases involving findings of nandrolone. Chambers's mother Adlith, a nurse, has always warned him off consuming such items. "She said creatine could flood my liver in the long run, and I just listen to what my mum says, because `mother knows best'. The only things I take are multi-vitamins and cod liver oil."

In the 10 days leading up to these championships, Chambers worked intensively on the start which had let him down so badly at the trials, where he had to make up a huge amount of ground late to take second place behind Jason Gardener.

While Gardener himself ran out of luck on the big occasion, after he finished seventh in the final it emerged that he was suffering from a severe stomach upset, his domestic rival put everything together, briefly heading the field before Greene came past him at 40m.

Chambers happily acknowledges that the American runner is "untouchable" at the moment. Greene, meanwhile, has described the young Briton as "a force to be reckoned with".

The niceties are being observed. But, for all his sunny manner and his self-confessed hatred of training, this Briton has his eyes firmly set on being great.