Athletics: May jumps for joy - and Italy

Mike Rowbottom laments that Italy's long jump gain was Britain's medal loss
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Britain's athletics authorities were left to reflect yesterday upon the world champion who got away - and lobby again for the increased funding they require to prevent any repeat of the situation.

Fiona May's gold medal in the long jump vindicated her decision to leave Britain two years ago to take up Italian nationality, after complaining she had been given insufficient support by her home country in developing a career which had brought her the European and world junior titles in successive years.

After a disappointing performance in the last world championships, May asked for further financial assistance and was offered pounds 500 by the British federation. "It was like a charity hand-out," she said. Soon afterwards she moved to Italy and married Gianni Iapichino, the Italian pole vault record holder whom she had met at the 1988 World Junior Championships.

Based in Florence, but spending most of her time near the Italian training centre in Formia, she worked on her technique with a new coach, Gianni Tucciarone, and was rewarded last year with a bronze medal at the European Championships.

Her victory will be greeted by a civic reception in Florence. There will also be celebrations at her family home in Derby, to which she will return later this month to show her parents the medal. Having received an annual training grant of pounds 8,000 from her national federation, she will get a further award of pounds 40,000 for winning the gold.

When asked if she felt she could have won the title had she remained within the British system, she replied: "No. It would have been impossible."

She added: "I had a much more positive attitude here after winning the medal at the European Championships. The Italian federation has given me more support than I ever got in England."

The British Athletic Federation's spokesman, Tony Ward, responded: "We have sympathy for what Fiona said. The Italian federation gets massive government funding which enables her and her coach to train as they wish. Unless our government wakes up to the fact that we have got to pay for our athletics success, we shall find it increasingly difficult to compete with countries such as Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal where such funding is in place."

Before the championships, the British national coach, Malcolm Arnold, was bemoaning the fact that Britain's annual training budget was only pounds 595,000. The Italian figure, raised largely through the football pools run by the national sports authority, is pounds 13m.

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May has become fully integrated into Italian life since she emigrated. Her husband, who did not qualify for the championships, decided not to come here in case he put his wife off with his own nervousness on her behalf. When she phoned him afterwards from the press stand, they were both in tears.