Athletics: Eurostar Chambers' express track

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LAST SUNDAY in Nuremberg Dwain Chambers became European member number two of the 100m runners' sub-10 seconds club. Yesterday in Paris the young Londoner joined another select band of speed merchants. The 21-year-old Belgrave Harrier was unable to stop the trackside clock inside 10 seconds in the Stade Charlety, but 10.21sec was quick enough to make him only the third British sprinter to win the 100m in track and field's European Cup final.

Crossing the line 0.11sec ahead of the Italian Stefano Tilli, Chambers duly followed in the spikemarks of Allan Wells, who triumphed in Zagreb in 1981, and Linford Christie, who won the event eight times between 1987 and 1997. Wells and Christie were also crowned Olympic 100m champions, of course, and it just so happened that Chambers showed this latest glimpse of his sparkling talent in the city where Harold Abrahams struck gold 75 years ago.

"Harold who?" a bemused Chambers responded when asked about the first Briton, and first European, to win an Olympic 100m final. The new British kid on the blocks has, apparently, never seen Chariots of Fire and the re-creation of Abrahams' famous victory over Jackson Scholz, a pulp fiction writer from Florida, in the Stade Colombes, some five miles north-west of Charlety.

It took Abrahams 10.6sec to win his Paris race, a third of a second more than Chambers required yesterday. The emerging Eurostar held his form with admirable assurance under the burden of starting clear favourite following his 9.99sec breakthrough in Nuremberg, pulling comfortably clear of the opposition in the outside lane.

Watching him surge to such a commanding victory, you had to remind yourself that he is still the reigning European junior champion - and that he has broken the 10 seconds barrier at the age of 21. Christie was 28 when he became the first European to do so, clocking 9.97sec behind Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis in the Olympic 100m final remembered for the Canadian winner's breaking of the rule book in Seoul 11 years ago.

It is no surprise that Chambers has become the 21st world-wide member of the sub-10 seconds club. He knocked on the door two years ago when he won the European junior title in 10.06sec, still the world record for a junior, and he gave another couple of raps last summer when he took the silver medal behind his British team-mate Darren Campbell at the senior European Championships in Budapest and then clocked 10.03sec for third place at the World Cup in Johannesburg.

He remains far from the finished article - a state of affairs that bodes well for him and for Britain but not for the British and European record Christie set when winning the world title in Stuttgart in 1993, 9.87sec. "I've still got a lot of room for improvement, particularly on my last 40 metres in a race," Chambers pondered. "I've been working on picking it up from 60m. I think as the season goes on that will get better. Me and my coach have been working hard on a lot of technical aspects. I've been running a lot taller this year and starting a lot further back from the line. That has exploited my style much more."

Chambers certainly possesses a sprinting gait of distinction - "a touch of the Michael Johnson," his first coach, Selwyn Philbert, called it. He has been refining it under the expert guidance of Mike McFarlane, the Haringey sprinter who dead-heated with Wells for the Commonwealth 200m title in 1982 and who ran with Christie in Britain's silver medal-winning Olympic 4 x 100m relay team in 1988.

The great thing for Great Britain is that Chambers is not the only British 100m runner breaking through at world level. Campbell, Jason Gardener, Christian Malcolm and Ian Mackie are all capable of following him under the 10 seconds barrier. And all four, like Chambers, are under the age of 26.

Globally, of course, time has moved on for the 100m. The 9.79sec Maurice Greene clocked in Athens has already lasted twice as long in the world record book as the time of equal measure, though considerably lesser merit, that Ben Johnson achieved with steroid-assistance in Seoul. It was recorded, ironically, on the very day the International Amateur Athletic Federation announced its refusal to hasten a review of Johnson's life ban to allow the fallen hero an opportunity to qualify for the World Championships in Seville in August.

Closer to home, the time could soon be approaching when Linford Christie is no longer the fastest ever British man. Not that Chambers is making any predictions on that score. "I'm just thinking about Seville," he said. "Realistically, I'd like to make the final there. That's my main target this year."