Athletics: Christie has to take it seriously: Mike Rowbottom reports from Rome

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The Independent Online
THE opening day of the European Cup final here in the Olympic Stadium proved salutory for a British men's team with high hopes of regaining the trophy. They came, they scored, they faltered.

Linford Christie, the team captain, did everything expected of him at either end of the afternoon, winning the 100 metres individual event and rounding off the activities by anchoring the sprint relay team to victory. However, notwithstanding a superb win at 400m by David Grindley in a time of 44.75sec, the team finished the day in fifth place after unexpected disappointments in the high jump, where Steve Smith finished sixth, and the 10,000m, where Eamonn Martin was obliged to drop out after 12 laps with a painful injury to the arch of his left foot.

The men's points total of 53 fell 10 short of the first day estimate of Frank Dick, the national director of coaching.

'We've got a mountain to climb,' Tony Ward, the British Athletics spokesman, said. France and Italy are joint leaders with 64 points followed by Russia on 61 and Germany on 59.

The women, set on their way by their captain Sally Gunnell, who won the 400m hurdles in 53.73, the fastest time in the world this year, go into the second day of competition in fourth place and with realistic chances of moving into the top three. Their competition, at least, appears to be going to plan.

On the one occasion when the plan went awry, Linda Keough, who missed all of last year with leg injuries which required three operations, rose to the challenge, taking Phylis Smith's 400m place after the Wigan runner had been forced to withdraw with a high temperature.

Keough, whose training this season has been aimed at 800m and who came as one of the 400m relay squad, only knew for certain that she would be running at 5.10pm. She took to the track half an hour later and her strong finish earned seven points for third place behind Elena Ruzina, of Russia.

Afterwards, Keough was filled with delight at a time of 52.14. 'Last year there were times when I thought I was never going to come back,' she said.

In contrast, Martin cut a dejected figure as he slowed to a jog just before the halfway mark in the 10,000m running uncertainly on the infield before making his way off the track.

Martin only felt slight pain in his foot after three laps. By the 12th he was attempting to run on the outside of his foot, such was the pain he was in. The best he could have hoped for at that stage was 13 more laps of pain for just one point. The problem may have stemmed from the fact that he spent long hours this winter training for the London marathon in shoes which contained orthotic supports. He was not wearing any orthotics in his running shoes yesterday.

As the team doctor, Malcolm Brown, applied ice to Martin's foot the television monitor above them showed the lanky figure of Smith knocking off the bar at 2.32m. Smith, who earned his place after defeating Dalton Grant in a controversial jump off at Belfast last week, was thus left earning only four points for clearing 2.28m. The winner, Artur Partyka of Poland, cleared just 2cm higher, which made it all the more galling for an athlete who has twice cleared 2.33m this season, the first time from just a five- step approach run.

Grindley, running out in lane nine as Gunnell had before him, established an early lead and never looked like losing it. His time, 44.75, equalled his second fastest, being only marginally slower than the 44.47 British record which he ran in Barcelona last summer. 'I knew I was in good shape,' he said. 'I ran 20.89 for 200 metres in training and that told me I was in shape for a great 400.'

Christie had to work hard in the second half of his race to pass Alexander Porkhomovsky, of Russia. He finished in 10.22 - not exceptional on a day when temperatures on the track were reaching towards 40 degrees.

'It was only my second 100 of the year,' Christie said. 'If he is that close to me in August that's when I start to worry. Technically I might have moved a bit more fluently.' However, the Olympic champion was far more fluent in the relay as he capitalised on an excellent third leg by John Regis to pass Bruno Mari-Rose, of France, and finish two metres clear.

Curtis Robb, who had not been in the best frame of mind before his 1500m race after a punishing week spent on the wards doing his medical training, finished a weary fifth in the 1500m and will now refocus on the 800m. But his time of 3min 38.56sec was a personal best. You can not ask more than that.

Results, Sport in Short, page 29