Athletics: Cram is lacking the pace

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The Independent Online
SINCE his glorious prime seven years ago, Steve Cram has had to learn the chastening lesson of expecting less from himself. He was not asking a huge amount at yesterday's combined Panasonic AAA Championships and world championships trials - like almost every other British 1500 metres runner, he wanted a world championship qualifying time of 3min 36.50sec.

What he got was a weary fourth place behind the winner, Matthew Yates, Rob Denmark, who is going for the 5,000m at this year's world championships, and Matthew Barnes of Enfield. None earned the standard.

With the only British athlete to have the qualifying mark, Kevin McKay, still struggling to recover from a viral infection, the situation facing the selectors, who announce their team today, is inconclusive.

Yates will probably seek the mark he needs at this Friday's grand prix in London. That would be the earliest that Cram would consider trying again.

The world mile record holder, who completed a hat-trick of AAA 1500m titles 10 years ago, realised that a fourth was not imminent after the pacemaker who was intended to help him and Yates, Mark Daley of the United States, dropped away with just over a lap to go. Cram, who had gone into the race confidently following last Saturday's heartening third place in the Dream Mile and a confident victory in Friday's heat, had the field on his shoulder and nothing much else to give.

'It was a struggle all the way,' he said. 'It was just a case of hanging on.' The words seemed to speak of something more than his race.

Barnes, a former training partner of Cram's who knocked three seconds off his best in earning third place in 3:40.06, did not think there was any chance of his reducing that by a further four seconds. So Barnes will not be in Stuttgart. Who will be is still unclear.

For Rob Denmark, whose place in the 5,000m at Stuttgart is assured, second place in 3:39.62 represented no more or less than a sharpening exercise. In comparison with the metric milers, his position seems luxurious.

Martin Steele, whose win in Oslo last week brought him the fastest 800m time in the world this season, 1:43.84, duly secured his world championship selection and his first AAA title. Having gone through the bell as joint leader with Tom McKean, he finished in 1:47.83, a fraction ahead of the 19-year-old South African Hezekiel Sepeng.

McKean, who also has the qualifying standard, did enough to gain selection with third place. But there was disappointment for the reigning World Cup champion, David Sharpe, who faded back into sixth place. It looks as though the gamble made by Britain's Olympic 800m finalist Curtis Robb, who did not feel fit enough to do himself justice here, has paid off.

Linford Christie, who had wondered aloud about his lack of domestic challengers after winning Friday's 100m title, found himself severely embarrassed yesterday.

The Olympic champion, seven metres clear in his opening 200m heat, slowed down so much that Solomon Wariso, a 26-year-old from Haringey, beat him by a hundredth of a second in the relatively slow time of 21.41. Perhaps Christie had been unaware that only the winners and one fastest loser progressed to the final. His time was nowhere near quick enough to get him through; the judgement of Solomon had done for him.

By a strange coincidence, the same thing happened to Christie three years ago in the 200m heats at the UK Championships in Cardiff, when he missed the final as he slowed and allowed Ayo Falola - fourth in the same heat yesterday - to beat him on the line. This, then, was history repeating itself as farce.

As someone remarked, had this been the US trials, Christie's chances of running the 200m at the world championships would be over. But then, this is not America.

Gary Cadogan made sure of his world championship place by winning the 400m hurdles final in 50.61. Stylish it wasn't - he virtually refused the ninth hurdle and clipped the last - but he held off the smoother challenge of Peter Crampton in the knowledge that he had only to win, having already achieved the world championship qualifying time of 51sec. After years of hoping to reach the AAA final as a 400m runner, he was finally on the winning rostrum.

For Cadogan, it is still a case of how the other half lives. His work as an advertising sales rep for the Kilburn Times, has precluded his running in Sestriere and Gateshead late this season. He had better start negotiating now for time off at the end of August.

Kelly Holmes, the 23-year-old who has been a revelation at 800m this season, ran strongly to win her first AAA title in 2:02.69. Ade Mafe also secured his world championship place with second place in the 400m behind the Kenyan Ochien Kennedy.

Liz McColgan is having a scan on her hamstring injury this week. An appearance in Friday's grand prix at Crystal Palace now looks doubtful; she may look to the meetings at Zurich on 4 August or at Monte Carlo on 7 August.

The world 10,000m champion is only one of several leading athletes still needing to convince the selectors that they are fit enough for world championship consideration. The others include Katharine Merry, who pulled out of yesterday's 200m with hamstring trouble, Roger Black, who is suffering from a debilitating post- viral syndrome, David Grindley, who also pulled out of the 200m as a precaution because of a niggling knee injury, and Eamonn Martin, who last Wednesday ran his first race - on the road at Battersea Park - since pulling out of the European Cup 10,000m with a foot injury.

(Photograph omitted)