Athletics / European Championships: Christie thunders through between the storms: Spain and Portugal first to strike gold in European Championships while Backley and Hill reach javelin final in confident style

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The Independent Online
LINFORD CHRISTIE, competing in circumstances that tested his physical and mental durability, came through the challenge with elan here yesterday.

In his first competitive racing since he injured a hamstring on 15 July, the world and Olympic champion negotiated two rounds of heats, the latter in the aftermath of a violent thunderstorm, to reach the 100 metres semi-final today.

Off the track there was also stormy weather as Christie, in his capacity as team captain, was drawn into the fraught situation of his fellow sprinter Solomon Wariso, who was coming to terms with being withdrawn from the Championships after his positive test for a banned stimulant.

Christie did not get to bed until 1 am after arguing with the team management over whether Wariso, who is technically free to run until a second positive test is returned on his sample, should stay in the event and try to appeal.

His first heat was negotiated in 10.39sec in bright sunshine. But conditions were far less helpful by the early evening's second round - windy and damp. He began with a trace of caution but was able to relax after 70 metres and coast home. Even so, his time was 10.08, which only seven Europeans, including himself, have ever beaten.

'I've trained well and I'm in good shape,' he said. Could he, someone asked, have done without the Wariso business? 'Well, yes,' he said. 'But I'm a team captain and you have to look after the people in your team.'

Toby Box and Jason John also came through to the final 16, where the nearest man to Christie, Geir Moen, of Norway, is nearly 0.2sec slower. A third European title at the age of 34 looks on for Christie.

The stadium came thunderously to life as Seppo Raty, Finland's former world champion and the world record holder, hurled what turned out to be the furthest throw of the men's javelin qualifying competition, 84.76m.

It was a satisfactory day, too, for the British men, Mick Hill and Steve Backley. The latter needed just one throw to reach the final today, sending the spear over the red line denoting the 80m qualifying mark for a satisfactory 81.58.

Terry McHugh set an Irish record of 82.14. Perhaps inspired by this performance from a training partner in John Trower's group, Hill threw 84.44 with the next effort to finish second on the night, between Raty and the world champion, Jan Zelezny. Raty now has the weight of a nation's expectation on his shoulders as the two other Finns, Juha Laukannen and Harri Hakkarainen, went out.

The first men's gold of the championships went, unexpectedly, to Abel Anton, a 31-year-old Spaniard who went into the final as only the 18th ranked runner. He won a stop-start race in 28min 06.03sec, a personal best, outsprinting the favourite, Vincent Rousseau, of Belgium, whose face registered dismay and disbelief in equal measure as he was passed inside the final 30 metres, having made what seemed like the decisive break at the bell.

In the absence of Eamonn Martin, there was no convincing British challenger. Gary Staines stayed in touch for 8,000 metres but then slipped back to 15th place in 28:25.60.

The first women's gold went to Manuela Machado, of Portugal, who won the marathon after breaking away from the field after 12 miles and finishing in 2:29.54.

Machado, 31 today, made sure of getting the present she wanted after suffering a disappointment last summer. At the Stuttgart world championships, she broke clear after 18 miles but finished with the silver when she was passed three miles from home. Portugal have thus taken all four European women's marathon titles - the winner of the previous three, Rosa Mota, sent a message of support to Machada beforehand.

Katrin Dorre, three times a winner of the London Marathon, found the 80 per cent humidity of the midday race too much and dropped out.

Two of the four personal bests on the day went to British competitors, who finished sixth as a team. Danielle Sanderson, a 31-year-old from Watford, was the top finisher, 11th in 2:36.29. She has now run six marathons, improving her time on each occasion. The other Briton who excelled was Alison Rose, 31st in 2:45.19. She came in at only a week's notice after the withdrawal of Zina Marchant.

The women's shot was won by Viktoriya Pavlysh, of the Ukraine, with 19.61m, as the expected German domination failed to occur.

David Strang, Britain's world indoor champion, was the most convincing qualifier for the 1500m final tomorrow as he finished a composed second in his heat. Kevin McKay failed to join him after finishing outside the first four automatic qualifying places in the slower semi-final.

Gary Lough, betraying a lack of experience in the other race, looked lost as he came into the back straight in seventh place. But as the field broke up, he saw a way through and made up enough ground to take fourth place by one hundredth of a second. It was another useful learning experience for the most improved British runner at the distance this season.

Sonia O'Sullivan, the favourite in the 3,000m despite showing evidence of fatigue in recent weeks, reached the final on Wednesday as an untroubled heat winner, as did Britain's defending champion, Yvonne Murray.

Earlier in the day, Britain's two wounded soldiers in the high jump, Dalton Grant and Steve Smith, came through the qualifying with renewed hope. Grant, who has been troubled with a back injury, jumped 2.26m. Smith, whose indoor height of 2.38 heads the European rankings this year, has struggled with an ankle injury in the past three months. After intensive physiotherapy here, he was able to compete without pain and cleared 2.23 easily.

(Photograph omitted)