Athletics / European Championships: Four aiming for the forefront

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DU'AINE LADEJO 400 metres

TWO victories this season over the double European champion Roger Black have made Ladejo an unexpected favourite for gold. The 23-year-old Belgrave Harriers runner made his mark internationally only four months ago when he won the European indoor 400 metres title in Paris. Although Black beat him at the AAA championships in Sheffield, Ladejo still felt that time spent training in California at the end of the winter had set him up for a successful season. When he beat Black in the TSB Games at Crystal Palace he was upset by the lack of credit he received.

Injuries to David Grindley and Derek Redmond have undoubtedly brought him to prominence more quickly than he expected. He was the only British runner to reach the 400 metres semi-finals in last year's world championships. As a teenager he lived in the United States and went to university in Austin, Texas. On a brief return to Britain in 1990 he finished second to Mark Richardson in the AAA junior championships and two years later finished a close second to Grindley in the AAA championships, which earned him a place in the Olympic 4 x 400 metres squad. Last season he won the UK title.

JACQUI AGYEPONG 100 metres hurdles

NOW Britain's top woman in the sprint hurdles. Her form this season suggests she can satisfy her ambition of reaching the final, with the Commonwealth Games as her main target. However, once in the final, she may exceed her own expections. Since giving up a full-time job to concentrate on athletics she has been coached at the Shaftesbury/Barnet club by Bruce Longden who also advises Sally Gunnell. Longden said: 'I recently asked her to compete at three meetings in quick succession to simulate a championship programme.' She passed the test.

Having run moderately well in poor conditions at Gateshead, she achieved a personal best of 12.93sec in Lausanne, then went to Oslo for a worthy fifth against the Bulgarians and Russians who will oppose her in Helsinki. She has overcome a dreadful performance in the national championships when she looked about to beat the 13sec barrier but clipped the sixth hurdle. Although she managed to avoid falling it was a temporary reprieve; she hit the seventh as well, then the next, and so on, to finish last. Showing her fighting spirit, she won the most important race of her career in the European Cup in Birmingham.

RICHARD NERURKAR Marathon

FOR the early part of his career, Nerurkar specialised in cross-country. At 14 he became the Northern Schools champion but in summer he rarely ran on the track, leaning more towards cricket and tennis. He was third in the United States cross-country championship in 1987 and won the national title three years later by which time he was also a proficient track runner, taking fifth place in the European Championships at 10,000 metres. He retained his national cross-country title in 1991 but had a disappointing 1992 Olympics, finishing 17th in the 10,000m.

However, last year he was again national cross-country champion and won the World Marathon Cup in San Sebastian in only his first season at the distance. Indeed he won his first marathon, in Hamburg, in 2:10.57, only a few weeks after he had recovered from a virus that caused him to miss the 1993 world cross-country championships. He missed this year's event because of a back injury which also cost him a month's training. He lives in Marlborough and trains by running about 120 miles a week mainly on the Downs. Following his time at Oxford University he gained a Masters degree from Harvard and spent some time as a language teacher.

KELLY HOLMES 1500 metres

A 24-year-old physical training instructor in the Adjutant General's Corps of the Army, she is attempting to combine a career in the services with being a top-class athlete. A silver medal behind the veteran Russian Yekaterina Podkopayeva would satisfy her for the time being. This season her improvement has been impressive but she still sees herself as 'a full-time soldier and part-time athlete'. Last season that involved all-night guard duty while trying to train for the world championships in which she reached the 800 metres semi-final. Next year's event may have to be written off since she is the only woman to have qualified for the PTI sergeants' training course which lasts for eight months.

She joined the army in 1988 as her athletics career was beginning to blossom. She had twice been English schools 1500m champion. Once in the army she took up judo and volleyball and left athletics temporarily. This season she was a courageous second to Lyubov Kremlyova, of Russia, in the European Cup and beat the Olympic champion Ellen Van Langen over 800m at Crystal Palace. Her most dramatic race was against Yvonne Murray in the national championships where Holmes won in the final straight.

(Photographs omitted)

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