AS ONE chapter closed - barring unforeseen circumstances, the next instalment of the British athletics saga was unfolding.
Roger Black retired following Sunday night's grand prix at Sheffield's Don Valley Stadium where Mark Richardson and Iwan Thomas, joint heirs to his throne, had once again demonstrated that 400 metres running remains in capable hands in this country, while the new women's team captain, Paula Radcliffe, staked her claim to be considered among the favourites for gold in the 10,000m at the European Championships in two weeks' time.
Black was beaten into third place by Richardson and Thomas but nevertheless enjoyed the send-off he was given by the Sheffield public and he reiterated that, in case of injury, he remains on standby for the individual 400m in Budapest despite being snubbed by the selectors in the first place. Given Solomon Wariso's less than wholehearted commitment to the one-lap race, anything could still happen but it seems likely we have seen the last of Black on the track and can prepare to see a lot more of him on television.
Radcliffe's dominant performance over 3,000m, winning by about 50 metres from a field that included the world cross-country champion Sonia O'Sullivan, suggested that her recent stint of high-altitude training in the Pyrenees has paid off handsomely. She can look forward with great confidence to a meeting with the Portuguese world 10,000m champion, Fernanda Ribeiro, in Hungary. O'Sullivan has yet to decide whether to run the 5,000 or the 10,000.
"It's got to be a good psychological boost going to Budapest," Radcliffe said afterwards, "but this race was out of character for her [O'Sullivan] so I'm not reading anything into it. I've done a lot of work, putting in three weeks at 120 miles up there and now I'm really looking forward to racing."
The season began well for the 24-year-old Radcliffe, breaking Liz McColgan's 10,000m British record, and it has gone from strength to strength with victory at 5,000m and second place over 1500m in a European Cup double. That is something she would have liked to have had the chance of repeating at the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia next month, but unless Kelly Holmes fails to return to health in time, Radcliffe will have to settle for just the 5,000.
"I'm disappointed the selectors didn't discuss it with me," she said. "I'm disappointed because they thought I couldn't cope with it. I could cope with it when Great Britain needed the points in the European Cup and I thought the whole object of me doing that was so that they consider me doubling up in Kuala Lumpur. It's a long way to go for one race." Her last outing before the Europeans is a 5,000m race in Stockholm tomorrow night.
As far as Sunday's meeting itself was concerned, there was plenty for the organisers, Fast Track, to feel happy about, although Jon Ridgeon, who takes off his press attache's hat to become the master of ceremonies on such occasions, admitted they were hoping for slightly more than the 11,000 people who turned out on a beautiful afternoon, especially given that it was Black's last race.
"We were hoping for 12,000 at least, possibly as many as 15,000 so it shows there is still much work to do," said Ridgeon, himself a former world 110m hurdles silver medallist. "Considering the weather was so good it was a bit on the sparse side but we can only do what we're doing, and it just shows you can't turn things around overnight. It may take us three years to get there."