Athletics: Fast-talking Boldon gets set to take Paris by storm

Mike Rowbottom detects the sound of youthful brilliance at this weekend's world indoor athletics championships
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The Independent Online
However well Ato Boldon performs at this weekend's world indoor championships in Paris, he will be the talk of the town. And, as is his wont, Boldon - who is most likely to perform stunningly well - will do much of the talking himself.

The 22-year-old from Trinidad and Tobago, who came away from last summer's Olympics with bronze medals at 100 and 200 metres and the promise of even better things to come, talks like he runs. The words and ideas pour out with bewildering rapidity, the attitude veering between arrogance and diffidence.

Having lived in the United States since 1988, Boldon is at ease with the kind of "conversation as therapy" so popular on that side of the Atlantic. But there is a self-deprecatory instinct in Boldon that makes you like him just as you are preparing to dismiss him as a loudmouth.

Take his behaviour at the recent indoor grand prix event in Birmingham, where he won the 60m and 200m in 6.49sec and 20.35, times that were respectively best equal and best in the world this year. Afterwards he pointed out that he had run so badly in his previous two indoor meetings this season that he had begun to wonder if he had what it took to run on the boards.

"I was beginning to think, `maybe I'm an outdoor guy, maybe I'm getting complacent, maybe I'm getting paid too much now'."

Had he run as badly again, he said, he would have finished his indoor season there and then and concentrated on preparing for this summer's outdoor world championships. "If I hadn't done well I'd still be down on the track worrying about what went wrong. It's a character flaw of mine. But," he added with a grin, "obviously this changes things. Now I will run in Paris."

Boldon is aware of the futility of too much soul-searching - something, you sense, that has come to him through much soul-searching. "The Olympic champion and world record holder lost 12 races last year," Boldon said. "This is not a business to be in if you second-guess yourself."

The tranquil attitude of the Atlanta 100m gold medallist, Donovan Bailey, is something Boldon openly admires. The Trinidadian accepts now that his highly-public run-in after the 100m final with Linford Christie, whom Boldon accused of putting him off by his protest over being false-started, was counter-productive. "It didn't seem to affect Donovan," Boldon said. "I'm the one who's responsible for myself."

Boldon and Christie made up two days afterwards as they prepared for a round of the 200m. "We made eye contact and he came up to me and said: `Nuff respect'. I said the same. It was all that was needed.

"I'm still not saying what he did was right. But I'm not so sure that if I got a questionable false start and saw a lifetime chance slipping away, I wouldn't do what Linford did.

"More than anything else in the 100m, emotion is what runs highest, not logic. Linford's was an emotional response so I've never held him culpable for it."

Boldon's reception when he returned to his home country with his Olympic medals had a profound effect. "They responded as if it was two golds," he said. "Not having won anything in 20 years helps as well."

Trinidad's last notable victory - by Haseley Crawford in the 1976 Olympic 100m final - has been inspirational to a young man who prides himself on his knowledge of sprinting statistics.

"How many men have run sub-10 seconds and sub-20 for 100 and 200?" he asks rhetorically. "There are but five. I am the youngest. And I have the fastest one-day double - when I ran 19.85 and 9.94 in Lausanne last year. That's the kind of stuff that nobody else knows, where I can draw my confidence from."

At such moments, Boldon seems at one with H G Wells' Mr Lewisham, nursing his ambition as he reflects on the maxim: "Knowledge is Power".

The proposed pounds 1m challenge in May between the Olympic 100 and 200m champions, Bailey and Michael Johnson, has clearly aggravated the double bronze medallist, who plans to break Bailey's 100m world record of 9.84 in April, "just to throw a monkey wrench in the works".

Preposterous? Possibly. But if Boldon can run 9.90 at 22, what might he manage in the future? After all, Christie was 32 when he won his Olympic title. "One of my heroes is Muhammad Ali," Boldon says. "But I don't know whether he talked to convince the public or himself." Whichever applies to Boldon, if he continues to match words with deeds, he will win a lot more medals. Starting in Paris.

n Sonia McGeorge has pulled out of the British team for the world indoor championships. The 32-year-old, due to run in the 3,000 metres, has been forced to withdraw after coming down with illness. She will not be replaced. Sweden's former high jump world record holder, Patrik Sjoberg, has also pulled out after a winter plagued by calf trouble.