Athletics: Regis bound for Rome to become king: A runner for all occasions stands to make a weighty contribution as Britain attempt to regain the European Cup. Mike Rowbottom reports

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The Independent Online
TRAINING night at Haringey's New River Stadium: one athlete is moving faster than the others. The imprecations of his coach, Mike McFarlane, resound in the cooling air: 'Good. Active. Chin] Chin] Chin] Swing your right arm, John. Swing it]'

The T-shirt which John Regis is wearing proclaims: 'Super Star'. But tonight, for all that he has wintered in California, he is one of the boys, his session shaped by the familiar rhythm which holds all working athletes in its sway: banter, effort, recovery, banter.

Only a small sticking plaster behind his right knee attests to the treatment Regis has received earlier in the day for the injury which had threatened to jeopardise his participation in this weekend's European Cup final.

As he trots back to his blocks, McFarlane apologises to him for an apparent fault in the timing equipment. 'Don't worry,' Regis says, waving a huge and dismissive arm. 'I feel good.' Words to make Britain glad.

Such is his range of talent as a sprinter that Regis is likely to contribute more often than any other athlete to the British team's cause in Rome as they seek to regain the trophy they last won in 1989.

As well as being the individual choice in the 200 metres, at which he holds the British record of 20.09sec jointly with Linford Christie, he is in the sprint relay squad and also on call for 400m relay, the climax of the European Cup. The absence through illness of Roger Black makes it virtually certain that the third call will come.

Whatever the requirements of him in the next two days, Regis is likely to feel at home in a stadium which was the scene of one of his main athletics achievements, albeit one which will always be mingled with regret.

On display in the study at his home in Sidcup is a photograph of three athletes straining for the finish in the 200m final of the 1987 World Championships in Rome. Having led until a metre from the line, the 20-year-old Regis faltered to allow Calvin Smith of the United States and Gilles Queneherve, of France, past him.

Regis has kept the picture in a prominent position for the last five years. It has served as a useful prompt in his restless search for the environment and stimulus which would enable him to achieve his full potential.

What he now regards, at the age of 26, as not enough would satisfy most athletes. A world bronze medal is hardly failure, and he has experienced occasions of heady triumph, such as the European Championships of 1990, where he won three golds and a bronze.

And yet, and yet . . . 'In the past, I did nine out of 10, and nine didn't cut it,' he said. 'To gain the medal I believe I deserve, I have to be 10. And I think I now have the full 10 points.'

What has given him renewed hope this season is his new, transatlantic coaching arrangement. While McFarlane, who tied with Allan Wells for the 1982 Commonwealth 200m title, has overseen his work in this country for the last year, Regis has spent three months working on the UCLA track in the company of John Smith and his two Olympic champions - Quincy Watts (400m) and Kevin Young (400m hurdles).

'If you can run with them you know you are doing well,' he said. 'There is a lot of pride involved. You don't want to be the man at the back of the pack looking as if he only has one leg. Obviously over 400 metres it is hats off to Kevin and Quincy. But the 150 metres is where I get my revenge.

'Mentally you can tell yourself that you are world class at the highest level. When you go to the blocks you know you have run with Olympic champions. They've done it. You can do it.'

While Regis's confidence that he now has the full 10 points has yet to be put to the test, there is no dispute about the fact that he is the full 10 pounds lighter than he was at this time last year. 'That's training in Californian weather,' he said with a grin. 'Three months under the cooker and any man would shrink.'

He has now turned away from the endurance training he underwent with his previous coaches, John Isaacs and Mike Whittingham. His training sessions in the United States - generally preceded by a full 40 minutes of warm-up and followed by an hour lifting weights - have included nothing over 450m. His 400m speed remains - he ran 45.48 while he was in California - but, more importantly, he feels sharper at the lower distances.

'This is how I want it to be for the next five years,' he said. 'There is no question now in the back of my mind - 'is this the right way?' ' Life is not always accommodating, however. While he intends to return to UCLA next January, his plan is dependent on Watts and Young patching up a difference of opinion with Smith over their management.

Right now, however, he is feeling the benefit of a winter's training purely as a sprinter. In contrast to previous years, where he has taken time to get down to his best, he has started his season as slickly as an American.

A time of 20.21sec earlier this month brought him the UK title; it might have been faster had he not slipped on the blocks. And last weekend his attempt on the world 300m record of 31.48sec was not so far away, in less than ideal conditions, at 31.98. Form which bodes well for this weekend, and beyond.

Assuming that there are no further problems with his knee, his chances of maximum points in his specialist distance look extremely healthy. As for the World Championships, which take place in Stuttgart in August: he is planning to pack his photographic memento from Rome away for good after it.

(Photograph omitted)

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