Athletics: SkyDome leaves an empty feeling

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The Independent Online
THE CLOSING ceremony of the fourth World Indoor Championships, like the opening ceremony, took place in a vast stadium virtually empty of people. Both had the feeling of being meaningless exercises.

To classify the action in between similarly would be unfair. But nothing detracted from the conviction that Toronto's magnificent SkyDome was an inappropriate place to hold the event. Officially, ticket sales reached 79,919 over the three days, but these included large sales to sponsors such as Coca-Cola, who distributed them to schoolchildren.

Canada's gold medallist in the 60 metres hurdles, Mark McKoy, who openly admitted he had false-started, was clearly committed to doing well in front of a stand containing many of his friends and family. 'I was just so jumpy because I wanted to win so much,' he said. But that attitude was not shared by many of the world's leading athletes, who failed to turn up to these championships.

'They don't appreciate track and field in this country,' McKoy said, adding for emphasis: 'I'm going back to Europe where it's a major sport.'

Even though the championships failed to impinge deeply on the host country, as far as Britain was concerned they had to be seen as a success.

Following the prediction of six 'medal shots' by the director of coaching, Frank Dick, five were won. Gold for Tom McKean and Yvonne Murray at 800 and 3,000 metres, silver for Colin Jackson and David Strang at 60m hurdles and 1500m, bronze for Steve Smith in a high jump competition that was one of the best in living memory exceeded any previous British performance, earning third place in the overall table behind Russia and the United States.

As far as Scotland was concerned, the championships had to be seen as a triumph. The Scottish contribution alone would have ensured third place in the table, and the performance of their three medallists stemmed from a genuine need to do well here.

Strang, who is based in the United States, was required to demonstrate to the US Immigration Department that he should be classified as a world class athlete and thus deserved a work permit. McKean and Murray needed to win to restore their confidence after demoralising performances in the last Olympics and World Championships.

'Hopefully this is an omen,' McKean said. 'I won the European title in 1990 and went on to take the outdoor title in the summer. I want to repeat the pattern in the Stuttgart World Championships this summer.'

The field he beat included only two other runners ranked in the world's top 10 this season, and the man who appeared to be his main threat in the final, the world outdoor silver medallist from Brazil, Jose-Luiz Barbosa, spun out of the race after a collision.

But McKean appeared to have the beating of Barbosa, having repulsed his early challenge for the lead decisively, and he finished the race in complete control. Like Murray, he could only beat those who presented themselves here, and if this means he can go to Stuttgart in a positive frame of mind, then he has a chance of further success.

If McKean does win a medal in Stuttgart he will need to be quicker off the mark in order to collect it. His belated arrival on the podium as the closing bars of the National Anthem died away - after he had failed to allow time to return from the press box high in the stand where he had been phoning home - gave the championships an image that will endure.

Some time in the future on BBC 1's Question of Sport, we will see the Scot powering over the line in the SkyDome. What Happened Next?

That is a serious question for a man who can afford to be a lot less happy with his silver than Strang. As in the Olympics, Jackson ended up as the generous, smiling loser while McKoy won the race that mattered.

This was no repeat of Barcelona, however. Then, Jackson made a mess of his final to finish seventh. On Sunday his reaction time to the gun was a second slower than McKoy's 0.053sec, which is well inside the electronic guideline for a false start of 0.1sec. That is worth a metre - far more than the distance which separated the two men at the finish.

Jackson must know that he is at least the moral champion. But the fact remains that his training partner and friend has won the last two titles that count.

McKoy, who has spent much of his time staying with his family at Jackson's house in Cardiff, will be moving soon to Linz, Austria, in an effort to find a sponsor.

From Jackson's point of view - as a competitor, rather than as a friend - that may be no bad thing.

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