Athletics: Christie and Gunnell benefit from positive thinking: British team captains lead by example at McDonalds Games as domestic sport licks its wounds in wake of doping controversy

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The Independent Online
BRITISH athletics wore a fixed grin yesterday afternoon. In the wake of positive doping tests, the emphasis at the Don Valley Stadium was placed firmly on positive image - and the British team captains, Linford Christie and Sally Gunnell, responded dutifully.

Christie's event at the McDonalds Games consisted of an initial 150 metres, which he won with ease in 14.97sec, and a more significant 400 metres or so, during the course of which he distributed T-shirts and greetings to the spectators before submitting to an in-field interview in which he dismissed his recent sequence of three 100m defeats. 'The crowd still love me. And I,' he added, turning to the main stand, 'still love you.'

A tired looking Gunnell also did her stuff in the PR department after a runaway 400m hurdles victory in 55.23, emphasising that Britain's women were relieved at the decision to keep them in next weekend's World Cup despite the risk of retrospective disqualification if Diane Modahl should fail in her appeal against a four-year ban.

'It is a horrible situation we have found ourselves in,' she said. 'But the best way of showing that athletics is still up there, still one of the best sports in the country, is to really do well. With home support we should be looking for a place in the top three.'

In recent years, this meeting has served as a fly-past for British medal winners. But on an intermittently rainy afternoon, many of the Brits - weary after successive demands of European Championships, Commonwealth Games and, in some cases, the previous night's Grand Prix final - resembled battered bombers rather than Spitfires. 'Athletes could have done without the European Cup and World Cup this year,' Christie said. Mick Hill, seventh in a javelin competition won by Jan Zelezny with the longest throw of the season, summed up the general feeling in characteristically direct fashion: 'Shattered.'

The performance of Zelezny, who set his world record of 95.66m here last summer, was one of the things which did most to brighten a gloomy day for the 15,000 spectators - 10,000 down on the equivalent capacity crowd of last season. He won with a throw of 91.82m, produced another of 90.36m, and landed another which looked more than 92 metres but landed six inches outside the throwing arc - and a couple of feet away from a startled official.

You could theorise that the contrast in attendance was created by legions of athletics followers turning away from the British sport in the wake of the recent drug-testing controversies. The more likely theory, and one which was espoused by the event organisers, was that it reflected a super-abundance of athletics events and coverage in a short space of time.

Kelly Holmes, who has made her name this season with European silver and Commonwealth gold at 1500m, returned to her old distance of 800m for an uplifting win in 2min 01.56sec. Holmes, who runs the 1500m at the World Cup, will nevertheless not be persuaded to double up at 800m following the illness which has ruled out Ann Griffiths.

Colin Jackson, who had more cause than most to be tired after running 13.08 to win at the Grand Prix final, surpassed himself in conditions that were far from ideal with a 110m hurdles victory in 13.03, a UK allcomers' record. 'I was not expecting to run so fast today,' he said.

Having retained his European and Commonwealth title, Jackson's only remaining goal this season is to retain an unbeaten record that stretches back 35 races to last August, when he was beaten in Berlin by the Olympic champion, Mark McKoy. There are two remaining hurdles for him - the World Cup and his final meeting, in Tokyo.

Du'aine Ladejo, competing over 300m, went out hard over 150 metres but was overhauled by Roger Black in the final straight. Black, who finished fourth in Paris on Saturday, three places ahead of a weary Ladejo, was timed at 32.45.