Athletics: Navigator of the fast lanes

Simon Turnbull finds a guiding light of sprinting burning brightly
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The Independent Online
NOBODY COULD appreciate the fineness of the line between success and failure in the split-second world of sprinting more than Mike McFarlane. Back in 1984 a mere 0.05sec separated the north Londoner from Ben Johnson and the bronze medal position in the Olympic 100m final in Los Angeles. That same summer, at the UK Championships in Cwmbran, he won the 100m title in 10.08sec but was denied the British record because of a puff of wind above the allowable limit. He was also one half of the unique sprint duel that even the photo finish equipment could not decide: when both he and Allan Wells were declared winners of the Commonwealth 200m final in Brisbane in 1982.

McFarlane achieved much in his career as a high-class sprinter for Haringey Athletics Club, England and Great Britain. He was fifth in that Olympic final, joint first in that Commonwealth 200m race, European indoor 60m champion in 1984 and an Olympic silver medallist with the British 4 x 100m relay team in Seoul in 1988. It's a decade now since he hung up his racing spikes but he does admit to one regret. "Maybe if it was this day and age and Mike McFarlane was coaching Mike McFarlane," he mused, settling back in his office chair, "I would be running really fast."

It certainly would be a high- speed combination. As a coach McFarlane has already guided one sprinter, Dwain Chambers, under the 10-second barrier for 100m and another, Julian Golding, to an outright Commonwealth 200m title. And both Chambers and Golding - at 21 and 24 - have yet to realise their full potential under the guidance of the guru who puts them through their nightly training paces at the New River track in Wood Green, North London.

"People tend to forget Dwain has only just turned 21," McFarlane said. "In the two years he's worked out with me he's really started to come to fruition, but there's still loads of stuff to work on. He's not as strong as his build might suggest. And when he develops that strength, without more mass, he's going to be an awesome sprinter.

"People say to me, `He's awesome already'. I say, `Well, no he's not'. He's 21. Maurice Greene is 25 now. When Dwain gets to 25 and he has the power that Maurice and these guys have developed then I think he's going to be a truly great sprinter.

"It's the same with Julian. It'll take a couple more years to get the finished article. When you look at him and you look at the other guys you can see he's not physically mature yet either. Now I think it's just a matter of getting his early speed going."

Perhaps the most awesome aspect is that Chambers and Golding have made such strides that they go into their World Championships in Seville with so much room for improvement. When Chambers ran 9.99sec in Nuremburg in June he became only the second European, after Linford Christie, to break 10sec for 100m. And when he clocked 10.04sec behind Greene and Bruny Surin in the CGU British Grand Prix at Crystal Palace he equalled the fastest time by a British runner in Britain, set by Christie in 1993.

Golding was the only home winner on the track at Crystal Palace, claiming the scalp of Claudinei da Silva, the Brazilian who took the World Championship 200m bronze medal behind Ato Boldon and Frankie Fredericks in Athens two years ago. It is only a matter of time before the graceful Blackheath Harrier becomes the second Briton to break 20sec for 200m, following in John Regis's spikemarks. That time could come in Seville, though the principal target McFarlane has set his two most prominent charges is to reach their finals, an achievement he never managed at the World Championships.

"Julian has run 20.18sec," McFarlane said, "but there's no way that's his max. He's capable of doing sub-20sec, if not this season then definitely next. Making the final is more the target for Julian in Seville, but once you're in the final then all things are possible. Dwain was a metre down on Maurice Greene at Crystal Palace and if Maurice runs 9.80 or 9.77 in Seville, Dwain has got to be realistically looking at running 9.92 or 9.89."

McFarlane stands a fair chance of having three athletes in finals in Seville; Tony Jarrett, the Commonwealth 110m hurdles champion, is another one of his charges. He also coaches Joice Maduaka, who could threaten Kathy Cook's 18-year-old British 100m record in the Anadalucian capital. Three finalists and a British record would represent a remarkable result for a coach who has to fit the development of his world- class athletes into his spare time. McFarlane, 40 now, works as a development officer for the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme in inner-city London.

"It's funny," he said, "but I speak to a lot of the German coaches at the track meets and they say, `Oh, Mike, you're doing a really good job with the guys. Can I come down and see you working with them at so and so time next week?' And I say, `No, I've got to go to work'. They look at you and laugh. They say, `You work and you have guys who are in the top 10 in the world?' And I say, `Well, yeah'. And they say, `Well, what's going on?' "

What's going on is the Great British way of taking on the sporting world - on the cheap but with priceless expertise.