Athletics: Walker leads the golden hour

European Athletics Championships: Sweep of 200m medals and Thomas' gold in 400m cap glorious night for Britain
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HAPPY HOUR arrived here for British athletics last night as its competitors collected six European Championship medals in the space of 60 minutes, including a clean sweep in the men's 200 metres.

After Dalton Grant had produced a totally unexpected silver in the high jump, Doug Walker came through for a widely predicted victory in the 200m, ahead of Doug Turner and Julian Golding, before Iwan Thomas rounded off a memorable night by taking the 400m title ahead of his great domestic rival Mark Richardson, who had to settle for bronze.

Before the championships, there had been talk about Britain winning all three medals in the one-lap event to echo the achievement at this competition in 1986, when Seb Coe, Tom McKean and Steve Cram won gold, silver and bronze over 800 metres.

But it was the 200 which provided the Spitfires coming out of the sun, and Walker, whose outstanding form this season including a European Cup win had established him as favourite, needed to draw on all his courage and commitment to confirm his position, drawing clear of Turner with a surge over the final 30 metres to finish in 20.53.

Walker's performance was all the more admirable for the fact that he was carrying an injury - his kneecap has been displaced by half an inch for several weeks.

"The leg's hurting now but I didn't feel it during the race," he said. "I just blocked it out. It was great to get a sweep, and this is a major breakthrough for me, because I had a lot of pressure of expectation on me."

If he had any lingering regrets about giving up rugby - he played in the same Scottish schools team as current internationals Gregor Townshend and Craig Joiner and subsequently for Heriot's FP - they have now disappeared.

"To think I nearly ended up a rugby player," he said. "I'm so thankful I chose running."

Thus Walker joins a sparse list of Scottish European champions, including Tom McKean, Yvonne Murray, Alan Paterson and David Jenkins, having finished ahead of a Welshman and an Englishman, Julian Golding, who won bronze in 20.72sec on a photo-finish with Troy Douglas of the Netherlands.

In the 400m, it was a Welshman finishing ahead of the Englishman, as Iwan Thomas rediscovered the form that had won him the AAA trials to win in 44.54sec.

Richardson was caught in the final few strides by Robert Mackowiak of Poland, who set a national record of 45.05, and finished a despondent third in 45.14sec. Britain's other representative, Solomon Wariso, was disqualified for running out of his lane after finishing sixth in 45.60.

It was a huge relief for the bleach-blond Welshman, whose rash effort in last year's world championship saw him fall out of contention for a medal in the final part of the race. He had gone into this race having been beaten five times out of six by Richardson. But this time he got it absolutely right.

"I was nervous last year in Athens, but that was nothing to how I felt here," he said. "I couldn't sleep at all last night. But I knew that if I didn't run like a headless chicken over the first 300 metres I would win it.

"I wondered about my chances in Athens, but last night I knew I was going to win, so long as I didn't do anything silly. I can hardly explain what it feels like to be European champion. I have only been really focused twice this season - at the AAA trials, and here."

Golding, who had looked a potential winner with a time of 20.32sec in the heats, was disappointed by his performance. "I got a medal, but it was not the colour I wanted," he said. "But it has been a great night for us.

"British athletics is back, particularly in the men's events, and there is plenty more to come. Doug Walker has done very well to live up to all the pressure on him.

"I thought I was going to do even better here, but I can't really complain," he said. Considering Britain's performance in the 100 metres, where Darren Campbell and Dwain Chambers took gold and silver, Golding's summation seems perfectly correct. Certainly last night was a time to celebrate.

Turner was also relatively disappointed at the outcome. He must have thought the title was in reach until the Scotsman pulled away in the last stages. "It could have been gold, he said. But I suppose I have to be pleased. As it was only my 10th race of the season."

Grant's silver medal, page 22