Athletics: Gunnell gives Britain a flying start: Christie follows example of British women's captain as he produces emphatic performance in 100 metres at World Cup final

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The Independent Online
SALLY GUNNELL produced two winning performances here last night which will never be erased from the memory, even if they are officially annulled from the World Cup records.

Maximum points from the 400 metres hurdles and - wonderful to relate after Gunnell had overhauled two runners in the final 30 metres - the 400m relay left Britain's women in third place after the first day of this three-day team event. Europe lead with 46 points, the Americas have 43 and Britain 36.

Britain's men, lifted by an expected victory by Linford Christie in the 100 metres and a totally unexpected one in the long jump by Fred Salle, finished in second place on 32 points behind Africa with 39.

Gunnell went to her marks in the 400m hurdles keenly aware that the women's team which she captained was competing under the threat of having all performances nullified if Diane Modahl's vital contribution to their qualification should be ruled out because of a retrospective four- year ban for doping abuse.

She remained true to her stated aim of putting all things out of her mind save for the immediate task in hand, finishing 10 metres clear in 54.80sec.

It was nearly a second and a half slower than she had run in completing her grand slam of titles in Helsinki. But she looked pleased - and determined to be seen to be pleased after a performance which had, as expected, established the right tone. 'The crowd were fabulous,' she said. 'I really enjoyed it tonight. It was a really great start for Britain.'

That start looked even better by the last event of the night as Gunnell timed her final surge perfectly to overtake Julia Duporty, of the Americas, and then Anja Rucker, of Germany. Gunnell's split was timed unofficially at 50.8sec.

She had taken over in second place - although she immediately dropped behind Duporty's shoulder as a tactical measure - after strong runs from Phylis Smith, Linda Keogh, who defended an unexpected lead, and Melanie Neef.

'We are doing the only thing we can in the circumstances,' Gunnell said. 'You have to go out there, run well, enjoy it and show that this is really what athletics is all about.'

The support of the crowd, which chanted her name before she raced, affected her. 'It was quite emotional actually. After all the things that had happened, you felt they really wanted us to be there.'

For Gunnell, the long campaign - incorporating European and Commonwealth titles and victories in European and World Cups - is finally over. She will now have six weeks off. 'It was a great way to finish the season,' she said. 'I just found something left at the end.'

Christie, the men's team captain, followed Gunnell's example. In a race where Africa's Olapade Adeniken was expected to provide his main opposition, the Briton, drawn unusually in lane eight, won in 10.21sec, thus bringing to an end a run of three consecutive defeats.

After two false starts, Christie got away to a relatively slow start on a surface shiny with rain. By 60 metres he still had work to do, but his characteristic strengths prevailed as he finished with daylight between himself and Adeniken inside him.

'I'm pleased to have won three World Cups in a row, and I'm relieved to have finished without injury,' Christie said. 'It was cold out there, and the false starts didn't help.'

He will run the sprint relay if needed desperately. But if it is not crucial, he will be happy to let the younger talents have their turn.

The women's 1500m confirmed several things. That Hassiba Boulmerka is one of the strongest women athletes in the world - her final kick proved too much for Canada's Commonwealth double 3,000m champion, Angela Chalmers, as she earned victory in 4min 01.05sec. That Kelly Holmes is a runner who has established herself at the highest level - the European silver medallist and Commonwealth champion finished third. And that Sonia O'Sullivan, who finished a weary fifth, is worn out.

The World Cup, like the European Cup, is a competition which traditionally values the contribution of every team member, however small - even last is a point. The team chemistry also creates an atmosphere in which athletes compete above themselves.

Last night the chemistry worked for the 29-year-old Salle, who produced a personal best of 8.10m in the sixth round of the long jump to take maximum points.

On paper, Salle was heading for last place in the event. His 1994 best of 7.88, set in finishing fifth at the Commonwealth Games, had been bettered this year by all of his opponents, notably the man who won the title in Victoria, Obinna Eregbu, of Nigeria, with 8.22, and Dion Bentley, of the United States, who has an 8.28 to his credit.

But none of them was able to react to his final effort, although Bentley moved up to third place with 7.93.

Salle, whose England career - he won a silver medal at the 1986 Commonwealth Games - has contained an interlude in which he competed for his father's birthplace of Cameroon in the 1988 Olympics, has thus jumped further than any British jumper since Stewart Faulkner managed 8.15 in 1989. 'The crowd gave me a big lift, and I gave it all I could on the last jump,' Salle said.

Rob Denmark had to be persuaded to run the 10,000m for Britain after following up his victory in the Commonwealth Games 5,000m with 20 verbal lashes for those charged with looking after middle distance runners in this country. In a race which was nearly washed away by torrential rain at one point, he did enough to make Britain's officials glad they had mollified him as he took third place in a time of 28min 20.65sec behind Africa's runaway winner, Khalid Skah.

The Olympic champion, who recorded a time of 27min 38.74sec, just outside the World Cup record, pulled clear by the 4,000m mark and steadily extended his lead to more than half a lap at the finish. Skah was reported to have been not keen to run in this event, but had been persuaded by a personal appeal from the King of Morocco.

The women's 200 metres saw Merlene Ottey hold off Russia's double European sprint champion Irina Privalova to win in 22.23sec, a UK all comers' record.

(Photograph omitted)

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