Athletics: Christie sees the light

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The Independent Online
LAID low by injuries and further wounded by those who had simply discharged themselves from responsibility of appearing at the Alexander Stadium yesterday, Britain's male athletes struggled manfully for points in the European Cup and start the second day in second place to Germany.

But the women distinguished themselves, finishing in the lead, yet it will still be a struggle today for both the men and the women to qualify for the World Cup finals at Crystal Palace in September. They each need to finish in the top two to be there. While the women could achieve that, the men have their weaker events to come today, and are only one point ahead of Russia. Whether or not this somewhat spurious competition should be held annually, or even at all, begs the question of whether under a new administration British athletics is going to lose out in future major championships such as this. The new attitude seems to be that if the top athletes want to put cash before country every time, so be it.

Promising but hard-pressed club athletes are likely to get more chances but the real medal prospects are not even going to be questioned about their non-appearance, or even reminded that without events such as the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, European Championships and the European Cup their reputations would never have got off the ground. The whole sport is floating, apparently unable to come to terms with the dismissal of the British Athletic Federation's promotions officer, Andy Norman, who yesterday was sitting among the VIPs.

The British absentees this weekend include such potential high points scorers as Colin Jackson, Tony Jarrett, John Regis, Liz McColgan and Yvonne Murray. The result is that athletes who in normal circumstances would be pleased to finish fourth in such company had to aim for second.

As it was, even a favourite for comfortable victory such as the Olympic champion Sally Gunnell made hard work of gaining maximum points in the 400 metre hurdles and had to fend off a predatory challenge from Tatiana Terechtchouk of Ukraine.

Naturally, the British men's captain, Linford Christie, who because of the withdrawal of John Regis has to run three times this weekend, needed to be in inspiring form. And though his 100m win came at a time when it seemed too late to turn the tide of men's events, it was obvious how determined he was even before the race eventually began. There had already been three false starts when he flew off the blocks - too fast according to the starter. Christie turned back disbelievingly as the race was stopped yet again. The light in his lane went on, signifying that he was the culprit. He promptly turned it off. In fact, it appeared that the false start should have been attributed to the Swede, Mikael Wenhof. Christie was clearly furious and the judges in a dither. He said later: 'I turned off the light because I don't make false starts.' The judges said there had been a malfunction, and suggested Christie himself should turn off the light. It all served to pump more adrenalin into Christie's limbs and he duly won for the fifth time in European Cup competition, and he went on to anchor the sprint relay team to victory.

If Christie was angrily ruthless in his victory, Roger Black was coolly tactical in a fine 400m win. After so long out of athletics with glandular problems, Black has returned appetite full and power almost as it was. Yesterday he dominated his race, taking the lead early and increasing his stride on the final bend to take an eight-metre lead that he held to the end in a time of 45.08sec. If the withdrawals and injuries were troublesome enough, the omens in yesterday's early men's events seemed damning. Mick Hill, a World Championship bronze medal-winner, could manage only third in the javelin, as did Dalton Grant, the European indoor champion in the high jump. The absence of Eamonn Martin and Rob Denmark was conspicuous in the 10,000m. Stephane Franke, the German champion, and Francesco Panetta, of Italy, lost Gary Staines after 18 laps and had a race of their own. As Panetta sprinted past Franke on the last bend they lapped Staines.

The continuing good progress of the 19-year-old sprinter Katharine Merry was emphasised in high-quality company when she broke her own best time with 11.34sec for the 100m to finish second. Yet again she appeared capable of even better, but for the time being pressing some of the leading sprinters in Europe was no bad addition to her apprenticeship. Earlier she had plucked up courage to ask Christie for some advice about starting. 'He said to get my head down, use my arms and get out on the 'B' of bang; and it worked.' As well as Merry's performance, the British women came up with probably the most courageous performance of the day when Diane Modahl won the 800m. Similarly, Melanie Neef achieved a personal best of 52.43sec in the 400m in which she was second to Svetlana Goncharenko of Russia.

(Photograph omitted)