Athletics: Golding looks ready to emerge from the pack

Mike Rowbottom meets a sprinter facing a season of major championship targets
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The Independent Online
THERE is a new pecking order in British sprinting - but no one yet knows what it is. Julian Golding, 23 years old, bright-eyed, bushy tailed and hugely talented, offers a graphic demonstration.

"It used to be Linford Christie here," he said, plonking his drink can under the table, and "everyone else here," laying down his mobile phone a foot or so behind.

"But now Linford has gone," he said, removing the drink can, "and we are all in a group together." His hand taps out a random pattern around his phone. "We've got me here, and Jason Gardener here, and Ian Mackie and Darren Campbell and Dwain Chambers and Darren Braithwaite and Christian Malcolm and Marlon Devonish...

"There's a sense of relief that Linford has retired, because whenever he was around you knew you were racing for second place. But it seems to have got even more competitive now."

Domestically, the race is on to earn individual sprint places for this season's European Championships and Commonwealth Games.

While the most dramatic step forward last season came from Chambers, with his world junior 100 metres record of 10.06sec, the way Golding transformed spindly potential to spindly achievement has been just as impressive.

Perhaps the best testament to his ability came at last year's World Championships, when he anchored the relay team to a bronze medal.

This year Golding has built on his achievements of last summer - he also won the European Under-23 200m title - with an outstanding indoor season which left him third in the 1998 world 200m rankings with a time of 20.46sec. But he is not yet the finished article, as he showed in faltering to fourth place in the European Indoor Championships two months ago.

"That was a bitter disappointment to me," he said. "I felt crushed." But it has had the effect of motivating him to train harder than ever before under the direction of his new coach, Mike McFarlane. He has high hopes for an outdoor season which gets underway at a meeting in Crete this weekend. "If I stay healthy, I think I can have a fantastic season and I don't use that word loosely. I am more confident than I have ever been in my life."

That is probably saying something. There is an assurance about this young man which is special and which stems, almost certainly, from a sense of proportion. His love of athletics is obvious. Like the reigning world 200m champion Ato Boldon, he is an avid student of the sport, replete with statistics. But for all the knowledge, and the eager personal ambition - he aims to be the first European to break 10 seconds for the 100m and 20 seconds for the 200, something neither Christie nor John Regis quite managed - Golding rates athletics at no higher than third on his list of priorities.

First comes the church - specifically the Church of God of Prophesy in Cricklewood, where this eldest of five children worships regularly with his family. "God is my life," he said. "And music - that is my love."

Self-taught on the battered, irredeemably out-of-tune piano his father bought for him when he was 11, Golding also plays bass, drums and euphonium for the group which regularly provides gospel music in services.

He recently turned down a request from London Tonight to bring their camera to one of his performances. "It would have been wrong and over the top," he said. He is equally cautious about his own musical attachments. Many friends from his church, or other branches of it, are session musicians who play with bands such as M People, Eternal and All Saints, yet he refuses to contemplate travelling the same route.

"I would do it if I was going to be paid for playing gospel music, but otherwise no," he said. "If the opportunity came along to play for All Saints, I would turn it down. I enjoy playing on my Sunday mornings."

Golding has also told McFarlane never to ask him to train on a Sunday, because he would not have time to go to church. Affable he may be, but there is a core of certainty in him.

If and when he does hit the big time, he will give some high-profile supporters cause for celebration - among them Joanna Lumley and Prince Charles.

For the last six years Golding has received grants from the Prince's Trust - the first, for pounds 300, enabling him to buy a pair of spikes and some kit - and he has been drawn into a closer involvement with the organisation which culminated last October when he gave a presentation to assembled showbusiness characters.

"I was shaking like a leaf beforehand, but people said I had done very well afterwards," he said. "Joanna Lumley told me she had watched me at the World Championships and said that when she saw me again on television she would be screaming the set down."

If things go according to plan for Golding, there really could be something to shout about this summer.