Athletics: The Golding opportunity

Spanish gold and the great indoors beckon for a sprinter who looks the part in the international fast lane; Simon Turnbull meets the dashing Briton with the world at his feet in Valencia this weekend
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The Independent Online
THE last time Spain hosted the European Indoor Championships, in the Sports Palace, Madrid, in 1986, the winner of the men's 200m crown proceeded to rule as the continent's supreme sprinter for 11 years. It was Linford Christie's breakthrough race. Knocked out in the heats in Athens the previous year, he scored an unexpected victory.

The same would not be said if the Golding boy of British sprinting emerged from the Luis Puig Velodrome in Valencia next weekend with the same title that took Christie into the international fast lane. Julian Golding will be the 200m man to beat when the 25th European Indoor Championships open on Friday in Spain's third city.

He leads the world rankings for the indoor season with his winning time from the AAA Championships a fortnight ago, 20.46sec, and last Sunday provided further proof of his high-class pedigree, surging past Jon Drummond - a World Championship finalist in Athens last summer and the training partner of Maurice Greene, the 100m world champion - to another highly impressive victory in the Bupa grand prix meeting at the National Indoor Arena.

Golding may go even quicker this afternoon. He runs in Lievin, on the French fast track where the last three indoor 200m world records have been set: 20.36sec by Bruno Marie-Rose in 1987, 20.25 by Christie in 1995 and 19.92 by Frankie Fredericks in 1996.

Unlike Christie before the European Indoor Championships of 12 years ago, Golding has already made his mark. Last summer he recorded the third fastest time of the year by a European 200m runner - 20.38sec - and anchored Great Britain's 4 x 100m relay team to bronze medals at the World Championships in Athens. He is, moreover, 23 years and five days old. Christie was two months short of his 26th birthday when he struck European Indoor gold in Madrid.

Not that Golding is forecasting that British lightning will strike for a second time on the Spanish boards. "I'm not the type of person to make grand predictions," he said. "I prefer to go to a meeting, run to the best of my ability and let my running on the track do the talking for me. Some guys talk a big storm but don't follow it through.

"The gold medal will be there for the taking in Valencia but nobody is going to give it to me. I have to run for it. I have to be prepared and mentally focused. Any one of the six runners in the final will have a chance. My aim is to be the first to cross the line but if that doesn't happen and I give a good account of Julian Golding I'll be satisfied."

Golding, you may have gathered, is a rather singular sprinter. Not for him the usual pre-race rituals of blanking rivals and histrionic rages. He warmed up in Birmingham last Sunday with the voice of his main rival in his head. Jon Drummond, it should be explained, in addition to being a world-class sprinter, is lead singer with a group called Kirk Franklin and the Family. They reached number one on the Billboard chart in 1993 - on the Billboard gospel chart, that is.

"A tremendous group," Golding said. "I listen to them on my headphones when I'm getting ready for a race. I'm in a gospel group myself, on keyboards. We don't have a name. We play in my local church on Sundays, the Church of God of Prophesy in Cricklewood."

Golding is also a member of Blackheath Harriers, the London club in whose all-black colours Sydney Wooderson shattered the world mile record at Motspur Park in 1937. Wooderson was an unlikely track star, bespectacled and frail, more like an office clerk than a world-beating runner. Or so it seemed. Golding's physical appearance is deceptive too. He looks too slight a figure to keep pace with the powerhouse sprinters of the world. But like Fredericks, the graceful Namibian, his slender frame is packed full of natural speed.

Golding trained with Fredericks last month in Lanzarote when he joined the high-speed squad Christie has been guiding since hanging up his racing spikes last summer. The coaching mentor behind the north Londoner is, however, another former international sprinter. Mike McFarlane was a European indoor champion before Christie. He won the 60m title in Athens in 1985. He also famously dead-heated with Allan Wells in the Commonwealth Games 200m final in Brisbane in 1982 and was one of the British 4 x 100m relay runners who collected Olympic silver medals in 1988.

McFarlane handed the baton on to Christie for the anchor leg in Seoul. It would not be strictly accurate, however, to state that his prodigy has grasped the metaphorical baton of British sprinting from Christie. It was as a 100m man that Christie made his name and the young Briton now leading the pack in that event is Dwaine Chambers, who contests the 60m in Valencia. The 10.06sec he clocked last summer was the fastest by a European other than Christie. John Regis, twice a world championship medallist, is the only Briton who has broken 20sec for 200m and, though seemingly past his best at 31, he has yet to join Christie in retirement. Golding's rapid emergence may hasten the Belgrave Harrier's departure from the international arena. But the new kid on the blocks is keen to avoid being pigeon-holed, like Regis, as a 200m specialist.

"I'm not," Golding said. "I'm a 100m/200m runner. I'd like to make that clear. Everybody seems to think that because I'm running well over 200m that I'm just a 200m runner. It doesn't discount my 100m ability. My personal best is 10.28sec, which isn't slow, and this isn't mouthing off but I'm sure before my career is over I'm going to be known as a 100m/200m runner."

In the meantime, Spanish gold is beckoning this particular Golding, would- be lord of the fliers.