Athletics: Mayock leads British trio into battle against Spain

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S 1500 metres men produced an unexpected flourish on the opening day of the 17th European Championships here as they all reached tomorrow evening's final. The last time three Britons managed that was at the 1986 Europeans in Stuttgart.

John Mayock, seeking a double after winning the European indoor 3,000m title in February, finished second in his fiercely contested semi-final, a place ahead of Tony Whiteman. It would have been a surprise if either Briton had failed to progress, but there was no such certainty about the performance of Matthew Yates, who only made the team at the eleventh hour after achieving a qualifying time a week after the AAA trials.

The 29-year-old from Rochford was understandably delighted afterwards to have reached his first major championship final since he finished sixth in the 1993 world championships.

"Three Brits in the final," he said."It's just like the old days when I started." Yates first rose to prominence with an 800m bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games of 1990, in the race which was the last appearance of Sebastian Coe, and two years later he took the European indoor 1500m title.

In recent years his form has slipped, and earlier this year his coach, Bruce Longden, parted company with him after Yates had claimed in a newspaper article that it was impossible to achieve success at world level without resorting to drugs.

Yates, who finished third in 3min 38.97sec in a race won by Spain's former Olympic champion, Fermin Cacho, only achieved the qualifying time last Saturday, the final deadline for entries. After recording 3:37.83, he rang the selectors on his mobile phone at 10.25pm as they concluded their meeting.

Now he will join Mayock and Whiteman in a final which now appears a battle between Britain and Spain, whose other entries, Reyes Estevez and Andres Diaz, also qualified.

Mayock, who bustled his way past three Spaniards to take his title in Valencia earlier this year, knew he was in for another rough ride yesterday - and the spike marks evident on his thigh afterwards confirmed the correctness of his opinion. He was second behind Estevez in 3:41.69, with Whiteman 0.02sec behind him.

"It was bloody hard out there, because our semi was packed with fast finishers," he said. "I got boxed in with a lap to go, but I wasn't too worried. I knew I would push people out of the road if I had to.

"It was obviously a bit nerve-wracking, because we only learned this morning that there would be two races rather than three. But I feel really good. I came here to try to do the double, and I am going to give it a real go." Elsewhere in the programme, Joice Maduaka, who won the AAA 100m title, progressed to today's semi-finals as a fastest loser with a time of 11.35sec.

The opening ceremony featured horse-riding hussars. Unfortunately, some of the horses were ridden over electric cables, damaging the computer information system for over an hour.