Athletics: Johnson's nemesis back in fast lane

Simon Turnbull talks to Britain's forgotten 200m man Marcus Adam
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The Independent Online
IF MARCUS ADAM lines up alongside Michael Johnson in the World Championship 200m final in Seville in August it will be no great surprise if the Superman of track and field assumes the mere mortal cloak of a Clark Kent. Adam is to Johnson what kryptonite is to the caped comic-book hero. Johnson may have been deemed invincible by Roger Black, to name but one notable speed-merchant who has happily settled for second place behind him, but Adam knows what it is like to leave the Texan trailing in his wake.

"I've beaten him five times, actually," Adam said, counting his tally after Thursday night training. "I beat him in Zurich in 1989, indoors at Cosford in 1990, twice in Barcelona in 1992 (in the qualifying rounds at the Olympics) and then at Crystal Palace in 1997. I've just been a jammy kind of a bloke really. I've caught him on his down days. I've got a good record against him but I haven't got his medals."

Indeed, the medal cabinet in Adam's Hackney home has been gathering cobwebs for nine years now. Not since 1990, when he won the Commonwealth 200m title and took Commonwealth gold and European silver as a 4x100m relay runner, has he hit the heady heights of the international championship podium. He did reach the Olympic 200m final in 1992, and shone fleetingly the summer before last when he claimed the scalp of an off-form Johnson in the Spar Challenge meeting at Crystal Palace, but the man dubbed "the next British superstar" by Athletics Today magazine in 1990 has been a not so much fading as faded light for seven years.

He is not, though, yesterday's man. Last Sunday Adam was in sparkling form in the Birmingham Indoor Games, winning the 200m easing down in 20.85sec. Next weekend he returns to the National Indoor Arena as a force to be reckoned with in the AAA Championships. Christian Malcolm and John Regis are also entered for the 200m but the men who took silver and bronze behind Julian Golding in the Commonwealth final in Kuala Lumpur in September will both be wary of a resurgent Adam.

Adam will be simply wary. At 30 he remains determined to realise his full potential and undaunted by the preponderance of talented 200m runners on the domestic scene (in Doug Walker, Golding and Malcolm, Britain boasts the reigning European, Commonwealth and World Junior champions at the distance). Despite his impressive return to form last weekend, though, Adam is still fighting to overcome the problem that has held him back in recent years.

"It's like muscle trauma, basically," he said. "I keep breaking down when I put my body under stress. Sometimes I've just got to sit at home and take it easy. I can't even walk around the house. I can't get any training done at all. But at least I've found out what the problem is now. I'm seeing a specialist about it.

"I've been running like a donkey for so long. I've just been plugging away doing what I can. I haven't even been able to really plan for this indoor season with my coaches, Tony Lester and Chris Francis. I was surprised when I ran 20.85 last Sunday. Basically the talent is still there. At the moment it's just a case of working the training and the competition around what my body can take.

"What this problem does is suppress the fast-twitch fibres. My usual blistering start isn't there. I'm having to battle to get going. I've been at 60 per cent basically for the past few years. Until it clears up altogether, I'm just taking things race by race. I'm not setting myself any targets.

"But my age is not something that worries me. Linford was getting on for 30 when he started really shaking and baking. I haven't done a major competition since the Olympics in 1992 and I feel there's still a lot there. Even in my younger days, when I was coming through, I wasn't getting the best out of myself. I didn't exactly live the life of a professional sportsman. I used to go out late and come back at five or six in the morning, even on the day of races.

"I've won a Commonwealth title and been in an Olympic final but I haven't fulfilled my potential yet. That's why I haven't walked away from the game. These 200m guys in Britain now are good. Julian Golding will run under 20 seconds. There's no question about that. But I know I'm as talented as Julian. I just don't have as much time as he has to make the most of it."

Golding, at 23, has already run 20.18sec and Malcolm, at 19, has clocked 20.29. Adam's personal best, set in 1992, is 20.41sec. But only two Britons - Regis and Linford Christie - have run faster than the 20.10sec the East Ender recorded, with minimal wind assistance, when he won his Commonwealth title in Auckland. That was on 1 February, 1990 - nine years ago next week.

It remains to be seen whether Adam can make up for lost time and catch up with his younger self, let alone overtake him. As he points out, though: "If I don't achieve anything more in my athletics career at least I can say I beat the great guy five times." And that is more than any other rival of Michael Johnson can say.