Athletics: Ladejo digs in to steal Black's thunder: European Athletics Championships: British rivals one and two in men's 400m but out-of-sorts McKean makes no impression

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The Independent Online
ROGER BLACK'S hopes of winning an unprecedented third European title at 400 metres were ended last night by his fellow Briton Du'Aine Ladejo, who confirmed his arrival as a major talent with a performance of unanswerable power and exuberance.

It was the first time Britain had achieved such a result at this event in a major championships since the Europeans of 1958, when John Wrighton took gold and John Salisbury silver. In a race that lived up to all expectations, the 28-year-old had to give way to the 24-year-old. Reaching the final straight virtually level and clear of the field, the two men strode towards the finish, Ladejo drawing inexorably ahead as Black began to rock and grimace. Ladejo's time was 45.09sec and Black's 45.20, but that was irrelevant. It was man against man. Simple. Cruel.

'They say success just prepares you for future disappointment,' Black said afterwards, his face blank and drawn. 'That's what happened to me today really.' He had spent the day re-reading his diaries of last year, when a viral syndrome had left him so ill that he could barely read, never mind train. 'I was reminding myself of what it was really all about,' he said. 'But I am a competitor, and the nature of the competitor is that he always wants to be better. But I was beaten by the better man on the day.'

Having also passed up the chance to run in the Commonwealth Games on medical advice, Black faces the prospect of re-motivating himself for the world championships next year. 'It's getting harder and harder,' he said.

For Ladejo, whose victory in the European indoor championships in March signalled his potential, life is getting easier and easier. Having returned last year from a six-year stint of education in the United States, where he ran for the University of Texas, this Londoner born of a Nigerian father and a half-Nigerian, half-English mother has now managed to identify himself with his native country.

'I've never been so relaxed before a race in my life,' he said. 'I never doubted that I would win. When I saw the expression on Roger's face after 300 metres I knew that it was mine. I have the utmost respect for Roger and the way he has come back. But this is fantastic.'

Phylis Smith, who began this season so hampered by a hamstring injury that she was unable to run in the national trials, came through to win an unexpected bronze medal in the 400 metres behind Marie-Jose Perec, France's Olympic champion. Had the race gone on five metres more, she looked as if she would have overtaken the flagging Svetlana Goncharenko for silver. Perec ran 50.33, Smith 51.30.

Smith, whose official shirt number at those Games controversially bore the name of her helpful local butcher, Arthur Cackett, gave thanks to a different source of support yesterday. 'When I came into the home turn,' she said, 'I thought to myself, 'Lord, it's up to you now' and he blew me down the straight,' she said. Tom McKean's defence of the 800 metres title he won in Split, never expected to be successful after his indifferent season, ended ignominiously. He was fourth and struggling when a knock from Piotr Piekarski of Poland made him stumble and, effectively, give up before finishing seventh in 1min 49.41sec. Craig Winrow, the only other British 800m man here following Martin Steele's decision to concentrate on the Commonwealth Games, was boxed at the back throughout and had to swerve into lane four 40 metres out. He finished second behind Guiseppe D'Urso in 1:46.93.

The question asked by the banner overlooking the pole vault final - Where's Sergey? - answered itself. Bubka, who has a flexible arrangement with the Ukrainian federation, prefers the more profitable challenge of the grand prix circuit. In the absence of the world record holder, Rodion Gataullin of Russia won with the first six-metre vault in major competition.

Geir Moen, Norway's 100 metres silver medallist behind Linford Christie, profited from the absence of John Regis to win the 200 metres in 20.30sec. Not even a pair of Regis's shoes could help Philip Goedluck, Britain's sole representative, in the semi-finals.

As predicted, Irina Privalova of Russia emulated Katrin Krabbe's sprint double of four years ago by winning the women's 200m in 22.32sec. Colin Jackson, with almost as much inevitability, began the defence of his 110m hurdles title in ominously assured fashion as he won his heat in 13.16sec, the fastest of the day.

The second test on sprinter Solomon Wariso's urine sample showed traces of ephedrine and he faces a three-month ban. Bulgaria's Sofia Bozhanova, fourth in the women's triple jump, became the first athlete in Helsinki to test positive.

(Photograph omitted)

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