Athletics / European Championship: How Du'aine mastered the Black arts

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The Independent Online
NO ONE outside his immediate family and friends wanted 23- year-old Du'aine Ladejo to win the national 400 metres title in Sheffield. The sympathy vote had already gone to the valiant, smooth star of Question of Sport Roger Black, twice a European champion but last year struck down by glandular fever and again on the comeback trail. Ladejo did not spoil the fairy story, but on Thursday in Helsinki he felt really wicked, took Black's European title and within a few days he will be the one everyone wants to win a Commonwealth title as well.

This time Black will not be around. 'The only reason I'm not going to the Commonwealth Games is that after having glandular fever,something this season had to give,' he explained. Ladejo says all the right things about wanting Black to carry on but at the moment he is basking in the attention whereas last month he was fuming at not receiving proper credit for beating Black at Crystal Palace. His pride comes from a tough start in life, when his parents' marriage failed and his mother and friends struggled to raise the money to help his education.

Ladejo and Black are Britain's most eloquent athletes. For five minutes after Black had lost here he was speechless, acting as if he would spit an insult at his best friend. The silent fury lasted only for those few moments in which time Ladejo gabbled about owing everything to his mum and stepfather who bought him an old banger to get him to training. On reflection, Ladejo knew that beating a man who had just recovered from illness had to be put in perspective. 'But I just feel now that I can do a lot more. It may not come in the Commonwealth Games because there I'm going to enjoy the situation. But I want to improve my times. I was really disappointed with my 45.09 here but the important thing was that I won my first outdoor championship medal.'

Paddington-born of a Nigerian father and half-Nigerian mother who looks young enough to be his girlfriend, he had the benefit of public schooling in England and eight years' education in the United States. He strongly denies he is more American than English ('Not one ounce') but he lapses into American expressions and could outlast Carl Lewis in most debates, which is not surprising because he studied communications at the University of Austin in Texas. His sprinting ability was spotted but he fended off approaches from American football. He returned to Britain to live last summer.

Ladejo added: 'I only lost to Quincy Watts at the Goodwill Games on a judge's decision and I knew that after beating Roger at Crystal Palace there was more to come.' They had gone to the cinema the previous day to see Aladdin. 'I suppose I've ended up with the lamp.'

(Photograph omitted)