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Athletics: Matador Mayock back in the running

Barnsley's golden boy from the European Indoor Championships shows the same Yorkshire steel as his mentor, says Simon Turnbull
JOHN MAYOCK'S local garage can expect an urgent visit this morning. "I've got a sponsored car," he said yesterday as he prepared to head home from Spain, "which has my name and `going for gold' on the side. I'll have to change it now to `got gold'."

The Barnsley man with the golden hair and, since Sunday night, a senior international medal to match, paused to chuckle. Then he added: "Maybe I should have `John Mayock, Spanish matador' written on it, too."

Mayock has always been an affable fellow; too affable, his critics might have said. But in winning the final race of the European Indoor Championships on Sunday night he became the new driving force for British middle-distance running in the manner of a Michael Schumacher.

There was even an official protest lodged against him after the men's 3,000 metres final, questioning his part in the jockeying for pole position that marked the race. But the inquisition on behalf of the three Spaniards left trailing as Mayock sped clear in the final 120m was never likely to overturn the result. The Valencians may have jeered on his lap of honour and turned his medal ceremony into a shameful show of bad-losership but the assertive way in which the 27-year-old executed his victory was as impressive as the win itself. Mayock's was the kind of aggressive, tactically astute and perfectly legitimate run last seen in a British middle-distance man in the form of another red-haired son of South Yorkshire at the tail end of the golden British era.

As he stood cheering at the side of the Luis Puig track, Peter Elliott must have felt he was watching his old self flash before his eyes. He certainly saw the kind of Yorkshire steel with which he forged his own reputation as the `tough of the track'. And he had good reason to be gladdened by the sight.

Elliott was appointed Britain's middle-distance coach at the turn of the year. And since ending a running career that won him Commonwealth gold and Olympic and World Championship silver the retired Rotherham Harrier has been acting as coaching adviser to Mayock, who was yesterday named in the British team for the short, 4km race in the World Cross-Country Championships in Marrakesh later this month. Their relationship almost came to an end two months ago when Mayock, a part-time sports development officer with Staffordshire Council, ignored Elliott's advice and ran in the middle-distance event in the Durham Cross-Country meeting. Instead, the spat they had in the North-east mud that day has brought them closer together - and instilled Mayock with the resolve that has made him, seven years after his 5,000m success in the World Student Games, a gold medal winner at senior international level.

"I didn't want John to run," Elliott reflected yesterday. "He was half a stone overweight and he was just there for the money. We had words. But his attitude changed after that."

"It did upset me," Mayock said. "It took a couple of weeks to clear the air. But I knew I needed to get my backside into gear."

Even before Mayock's breakthrough on Sunday, Elliott had been given a rear view of his prodigy in the British all-time ranking list for 1500m. The 3min 31.86sec Mayock recorded in Brussels last August moved him to fourth place, behind Steve Cram, Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett but ahead of his mentor.

That it was good enough for only eighth position in a grand prix race confirms that time and times have not stood still. "Middle-distance running has moved on since my day," Elliott acknowledged, "and it hasn't been easy for John, having to follow Coe, Ovett, Cram and myself."

Britain's golden tradition has not been the only thing to which Mayock has been shackled. Elliott left him handcuffed to a park bench on his stag night in November. The services of the South Yorkshire Fire Brigade were required to get Barnsley's golden boy to the church on time.