Athletics: Morgan closes in on Lynn the leap

Sands of time running out for Britain's oldest record

ON THE last occasion Budapest hosted the European Championships, in 1966, a British athlete took an historic leap into the long-jump pit in the Nep Stadion. With a last-round effort of 7.98m, Lynn Davies became the first athlete to secure a hat-trick of Olympic, Commonwealth and European gold medals. Thirty-two years later, a place in the track and field annals is beckoning a British long jumper in the same spot of sand - a place that happens to be occupied by Davies.

It has been occupied by the venerable Welshman since 30 June 1968, the afternoon he jumped 8.23m, 27ft exactly, in a match between Great Britain and Switzerland in Berne. For more than 30 years now, since the month Bobby Kennedy was shot dead in the kitchen of a Los Angeles hotel, Lynn's leap has stood as a British record. It is the longest surviving British record by a margin of 12 years, the only one that dates back before 1980. At long last, however, it seems to be living on borrowed time. It could finally be history on Tuesday or Wednesday, when the qualifying round and final of the long jump are held in the Nep Stadion.

Having entered the world on 30 June 1978, the 10th anniversary of Davies' record, perhaps Nathan Morgan was born to the task of breaking it. It seemed so at the English schools championships in Sheffield two years ago, when the Leicester lad stretched his long limbs skywards and touched down at 7.97m. He had been helped on his way by a wind measured at 3.8 metres-per-second but at 18 the mightily gifted Morgan had ventured within a centimetre of the distance Davies achieved in Budapest in 1966, the last winning mark by a long jumper representing Great Britain at continental or global level.

Since then, under the guidance of Darrell Bunn, the coach who made Denise Lewis an Olympic and world championship heptathlon medallist, the former rugby union prodigy (he played outside centre for Leicestershire schools) has progressed in leaps and leaps. In Ljubljana last year Morgan struck gold in the European Junior Championships and this summer his talent has made an instant impression at senior level. In June he took third place in the European Cup and in the AAA Championships in Birmingham last month he crept closer to Davies' record, improving his personal best from 8.04m to 8.11m.

In Budapest, with the adrenalin pumping, 8.23m could be within Morgan's range. "I certainly think Nathan will have to jump that to get a medal," Bunn said. "I have no doubt in my mind that Nathan is capable of breaking the record, but I'm not prepared to say how soon. He's only just started being a serious athlete. He's only done one winter of proper training. There's a lot to come, a lot more."

Precisely how much more there might be to come in Budapest the engagingly modest Morgan, now 20 and a full-time athlete, is not prepared to guess either. "I never think about distances," he said. "I only think about competing. Winning is the important thing. Distance is second. With the adrenalin buzzing, I think I could come back with a medal. I wouldn't like to say what distance I could do, though."

Morgan has, however, become aware of the significance of 8.23m and the name of Lynn Davies. "I hadn't even heard of him until a couple of years ago," he said. "I still haven't met him but I wouldn't mind him being there to present me with a medal when I break it."

That "when", though, could be in Budapest this week, with Davies back in Cardiff watching time finally catch up with him on television.

SIMON TURNBULL

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