Athletics: Master classes can inspire Campbell to higher levels

Mike Rowbottom talks to a young British sprinter who will be relying on Linford Christie's advice in Budapest
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DARREN CAMPBELL could hardly have better support in Budapest as he seeks to win the European 100 metres title, given that his coach is a man who has achieved that distinction on the last three occasions.

Under the guidance of the now-retired Linford Christie, the 24-year-old who was brought up in Manchester's Moss Side has emerged as the most likely Briton to carry on a winning tradition in the event stretching back to 1986.

Christie believes that Campbell, who runs in the 100m qualifying round today, has the ability to earn a gold medal against a field that is without anyone of the standard at which he used to perform.

Campbell himself was in buoyant mood here. "I feel I can win and carry on where Linford left off," he said. "He makes me feel good, and gives me confidence." He is not, it has to be said, the fastest Briton this season. Christian Malcolm ran 10.12sec in winning the world junior title earlier this month, but he did not seek to compete in these championships.

However Campbell, who has a personal best of 10.13, has established himself as a consistent performer this season, winning the AAA trials and acquitting himself best out of all the Britons, including Malcolm, who ran at Zurich last Wednesday night.

As far back as 1993, Christie picked Campbell out as a potential high achiever. At that time, he had won the European junior title at 100m and 200m, and had taken silver behind Ato Boldon in both events the following year at the 1992 World Junior Championships.

Like many outstanding junior talents before him, though, Campbell found the transition to senior racing difficult, and after spending the winter of 1993-94 training in Australia with Christie and Colin Jackson, he fell victim to a nagging injury which caused him to drop out of the sport.

He played football for a number of sides, including Weymouth, Newport and Plymouth reserves, before returning to athletics in 1995 to undergo another winter training stint with Christie and co, this time in Florida.

The following year he made his breakthrough at senior level, running 10.17. Now he appears ready to take his running to another level.

His opposition here is nothing like that he experienced in Zurich, where he was run out of the final by a posse of American and African talents. The leading European this year, the 22-year-old Carlo Boccarini of Italy, has not improved on his time of 10.08, set in Rieti in May.

Anninos Marcoulides of Cyprus, Alexandros Alexopoulos of Greece and France's European Cup winner, Stephane Cali, are the obvious threats from abroad, along with Britain's other choices, Dwain Chambers and Marlon Devonish.

Christie - who has three other athletes here in Paul Gray, Katharine Merry and Jamie Baulch - admits that he feels strange being in a championship setting where his responsibility is for others rather than himself.

His experience since retiring has a similarity with that of Alan Ball, England's World Cup winner, who found it hard to accept that not every other player he managed could match the dedication he had shown throughout his playing career.

"I have had to accept that not all the guys can work six, seven days a week like I did," he said. Christie's commitment was so strong that on Christmas Day, when his local track was shut, he would climb over the fence to get an extra training session in. "I felt it would give me an edge over all the others while they were tucking into their Christmas pudding," he said.

Despite that, Christie expects all of his charges to be champions at some time, with the main target of winning at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. To bring that about, the work levels will have to go up. "I've been easy on them this year," Christie said. "Next year I'm going to get tough with them." Yet Christie remains uneasy with being described as a coach. He talks instead of being an advisor who is passing on knowledge he has received in his career, principally through his own coach, Ron Roddan.

"I didn't think I would have the patience to be a coach," he said. "Ron said I wouldn't. But I'm quite surprised with myself, because I'm loving it." He will be even happier if his protege manages to realise his full potential tomorrow evening.