Athletics: Rapid learner Chambers in sub-10 squad

In the post-Christie era, British athletics has finally found a sprinter to take on the very best

THERE WAS further bad news yesterday for any domestic rivals of Dwain Chambers, who on Sunday night became only the second European after Linford Christie to run a sub-10 second 100 metres. The 21-year- old Belgrave Harrier is not yet race sharp. That is, according to the man who has coached him for the past two years, the former Commonwealth 200m champion and Olympic 100m finalist, Mike McFarlane.

The season had already begun well for the Londoner, whose victory at Loughborough three weeks ago in a time of 10.17sec convinced the British selectors to give him the individual 100m place at this weekend's European Cup, ahead of the 24-year-old who beat him to the European title last summer, Darren Campbell.

That decision was queried by Christie, Campbell's coach and mentor, but Chambers' performance at the Nuremberg meeting, where he finished ahead of Campbell, effectively settled the argument.

The reaction of McFarlane when he phoned Chambers five minutes after the race - "You've run what? No way!" - made it clear that this was a performance that had come well ahead of schedule in what was only Chambers' second 100m of the season. "I was stunned," McFarlane said.

"Dwain is now in the arena with what we call the main gorillas - in other words the likes of Maurice Greene, Ato Boldon, Obadele Thompson and Frankie Fredericks. He's approaching that territory and what he has to do next is to establish consistency. We have discussed this time and time again in the last few months."

Chambers acknowledges the need for a steady progression in a season which he hopes will climax at the World Championships in August. But for now he is literally putting his feet up for a couple of days and reflecting upon his latest dramatic jump forward in a sprinting career that first seized public attention two years ago when he won the European junior title in a world junior record of 10.06sec.

Last season finished with another flourish as he recorded 10.03sec at altitude when competing in the World Cup in Johannesburg. For Chambers, it was a good end to what had turned out to be a bitterly disappointing year.

His reaction after taking silver behind Campbell in the European final at Budapest made it very clear that this was a young man who was not prepared to settle for second best. Unable to contain his frustration, he stormed out of the changing area after the final without answering any questions.

"The European title was what I longed for," Chambers said yesterday. "I'd worked and trained for it all year long and I thought I could achieve it, but on the day I didn't run to my best. I spent too much time worrying about what Darren was going to do, and that was my downfall. But I have matured a lot in the last six or seven months. I am a lot stronger now, and a lot more determined. In running 9.99 I have already achieved one of my goals for the season, but I shall stick to my plans and hopefully be running even faster by the time of the World Championships."

Chambers' new single-mindedness paid off in Nuremberg, where once again he lined up alongside his main domestic rival, pitting his own explosive style - he is 13stone just under 6ft - against the grace and fluency of Christie's protege. "I was thinking to myself: 'Don't worry about Darren.' I just concentrated on my own race. I was really surprised at how easy the run felt. It felt much faster in the European Championships, although I only ran 10.10 there."

Ironically, Chambers was assisted in his preparations by Campbell's coach. Christie, whose management group, Nuff Respect, looks after Chambers' race schedule and commercial deals, was in Nuremberg to watch Campbell and other members of his training group compete. And with McFarlane back in England, Christie assisted Chambers in his warm-up. "Linford was really helpful as a back-up," Chambers said. "He told me to get out, relax, drive and rely on my pick-up."

Being in the same management group as Campbell could, one imagines, be awkward at times, but Chambers is perfectly happy that the arrangement thus far is mutually beneficial. "There is a great camaraderie between Darren and myself and all the other members of the relay squad. We can't afford to worry too much about which of us is going to beat the other because we have got bigger fish to fry. We have to help each other if we are going to combat the gorillas.

"It is difficult sometimes. Darren beat me all last season and he will be European champion for four years, and that's going to be a burden to me. But now that I have broken 10 seconds, Darren has to carry that weight. He's got to go out there now and do something himself."

Only a year ago at the last European Cup, the individual 100m place went to the high hurdler Colin Jackson because selectors were not convinced that any of the upcoming young talents had done enough to claim it. By way of a protest Chambers, Campbell and Jason Gardener, who took silver at the World Indoor Championships earlier this year, ran as fast or faster than Jackson in the B race. All three have come through now in their own right, and Chambers believes that a major factor in their emergence was the retirement of Christie, the man who has dominated British sprinting for the last decade.

"He was such a dominating force, but now he's gone, the doors have opened for the younger runners. It was great to show that Linford wasn't the only Brit who could run a sub-10 100. He's led the way for us and we have got to go on and capitalise on it."

Chambers knows that even if he runs faster in Seville, he may not be sure of a medal, but for now he is happy to have put himself into a position where, in his own words, he can start "dancing with the gorillas".

His quick step is getting quicker and quicker...

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