Athletics: Christie calls for youth opportunities: Mike Rowbottom on the aftermath of a splendid weekend for British athletics

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The Independent Online
LINFORD CHRISTIE has made a plea that the younger members of the British team which earned second place in the weekend's European Cup final should be given preferential consideration for the World Cup final in September.

'These youngsters have shown a lot of guts,' said the British men's captain, whose total of individual European Cup wins - seven - is more than any other man or woman. 'They are the future of British athletics. For some of the guys, this is their World Cup.'

But Malcolm Arnold, Britain's new national coach, indicated that the head rather than the heart would rule the choice of personnel at Crystal Palace. 'Selection must be performance-led,' he stressed.

Given Christie's previous lambasting of those who had chosen not to compete for Britain at the weekend, and given his patent enthusiasm for those such as John Mayock, Craig Winrow, Gary Lough and Andy Tulloch who had come in to fill gaps, it was easy to understand his sentiments.

But there is a long and busy schedule ahead before September, and a long list of potential points-scorers who missed Birmingham for reasons of illness, injury or caution. It would be a rash selector who would turn aside the claims of Matthew Yates, or Liz McColgan, or Tom McKean, or Colin Jackson, or Tony Jarrett, or John Regis, or Yvonne Murray . . .

In the meantime, British athletics is entitled to congratulate itself on achieving a high-profile boost and ensuring that the embarrassment of missing Crystal Palace has been avoided. The performance of the women's team in qualifying for their first World Cup final encouraged both athletes and administrators to expect a continuing upturn in fortunes.

'I'm really excited about the future,' the women's captain, Sally Gunnell, said. 'We always seemed to be in the shadow of the men, but now there's a new breed of athletes coming through. They have a whole new attitude.

'It's a real boost for the sport at every level. Everyone watching will have seen what is possible. There is no reason why we shouldn't now go out and make an impression in the European Championships.'

Over half the women's team had benefited during the winter from a positive-thinking course. Katharine Merry, runner-up in the 100 and 200 metres, Kelly Holmes, second in the 1500m, Sonia McGeorge, a surprise third in the 3,000m after coming in at late notice, and Phylis Smith, who ran the third leg in the concluding 400m relay, were among those who attended residential weekend sessions at Loughborough University.

At a more prosaic level, the breakdown of the overall points won by Britain told its own story. For the men, only 30 1/2 pts from the total of 106 1/2 were contributed by field events; for the women, field events contributed 21 from 97.

'The question of our field events has to be addressed,' Arnold said. 'If we can improve by one or two points in this kind of competition, it would make a big difference.'

(Photograph omitted)