Athletics: Gunnell toughs it out

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SALLY GUNNELL admitted here yesterday that her 400 metres hurdles win at the Commonwealth Games on Friday night was the most difficult race of a career that has spanned Olympic, World and European titles. She not only made several mistakes but carried the massive burden of being captain of an England team wracked by the drugs scandal.

'We all had at least one sleepless night,' Gunnell confessed. That was the evening Diane Modahl and Paul Edwards heard about their positive dope tests. Modahl had been sobbing uncontrollably until six in the morning. The effect on Gunnell was obvious. She said that everyone had decided on Thursday to stop talking about the problems and get on with the task. But the emotionally draining effect of the crisis was apparent in her race.

Whereas she started out in her usual confident way, taking the lead coming off the first bend, her stride pattern became muddled, allowing the Jamaicans, Deon Hemmings and Debbie-Ann Parris, to get uncomfortably close. 'It was very windy down the back straight,' she said. 'I had to reduce my stride pattern early at the sixth hurdle, made a complete muck- up between the eighth and ninth, but managed to get back in.'

John Regis, who ran a disappointing 200m final, losing to Frankie Fredericks of Namibia, blamed lack of fitness rather than the effects of the drugs scandal. 'I've had injuries and I'm three or four metres short of pace. Now I've got a strained adductor muscle,' he said.

Steve Smith won the silver medal in the high jump was the same, but his finishing height of 2.32m was identical to that of the winner, Tim Forsyth, of Australia, who won in a dramatic jump-off. Smith said that there was a metal grid in the run-up area, where he would normally start his run. 'It was a matter of stepping up before or after it. I'm not making excuses, but you don't expect that at an international arena.'

Jacqui Agyepong took silver in the 100m hurdles yesterday behind Michelle Freeman, of Jamaica, in 13.14sec. Samatha Farquharson, also of England, won bronze in 13.38sec.

Yvonne Danson, who is 35, based in Singapore and only took up running four years ago, won the bronze in the women's marathon in a personal best of 2hr 32min 30sec, ahead of Scotland's Karen MacLeod. Carole Rouillard of Canada took gold.

Neil Winter brought Wales their first ever pole vault gold medal in a major championship when he capitalised on the South African favourites Okkert Brits and Riaan Botha both failing at their first height of 5.50m while Winter had already cleared 5.40m. Both South Africans had personal bests in excess of 5.50m. Winter is the 20-year-old Bristol-born son of a signwriter and only represents Wales on a residential qualification because he went to school there.

Today's 1500m men's final will include five runners from Britain. In a sluggish first semi- final, David Strang, of Scotland, grabbed fourth place of the first five automatic qualifiers while in a quicker second race John Mayock and Kevin McKay, of England, Brian Treacy, of Northern Ireland, and the Scot Gary Brown all got through.