Athletics: Wariso able to survive his stupidity

European Athletics Championship: Britain's 400 metres trio advance despite misjudgement of Solomon
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The Independent Online
SOLOMON WARISO went to the edge of the precipice, looked over, and stepped back again here yesterday.

The man who earned the third 400 metres place at these European Championships at the expense of Roger Black came within hundredths of a second of what would have been an ignominious exit after he slowed too soon in his opening heat and failed to gain one of the three automatic qualifying places for today's semi- finals, for which Britain's other entrants, Mark Richardson and Iwan Thomas, qualified comfortably.

The misjudgement of Solomon occurred 50 metres from the line as, apparently secure in third place, he looked around him in exaggerated fashion and slowed, allowing Jan Podebradsky of the Czech Republic to pass him. Wariso had no time to respond, finishing fourth in 46.27sec to the Czech's 46.16.

There followed 20 minutes in Wariso's life that he will least want to remember. Venting his frustration by slamming his shoes on to the floor, he settled down to watch his fate determined by the three subsequent heats, hoping to progress as one of the four fastest losers.

His viewing was interrupted by the harshly jesting tones of Britain's former promotions officer, Andy Norman. "Get up Solomon," he said. "You've got to run again tomorrow. If you're lucky. Come on, get up. We'll take you outside and shoot you." Wariso did get his run, despite an uncomfortably fast final heat in which the fourth-placed runner matched his time.

After the controversy of his selection for the individual event here, following his performance in the AAA trials, where he beat Black to third place by 0.03sec in what was his first 400 metres appearance in an outdoor championship, Wariso arrived at this event under unusual pressure. It was not necessarily fair, but it was a fact.

"I thought I would probably go through because of my time," he said. "But you can't be sure of these things. I saw some of the guys running personal bests." In his defence, Wariso said that he did not relish running in the morning.

"I had to get up at six this morning, and I don't run well early," he said.

However, he is now through. And having reduced his personal best by more than a second to 44.68 in the AAA final, this 31-year-old is talented enough to make up for his near lapse with another impressive performance.

Wariso's fortune was not shared by his colleague, Nick Buckfield. The 25-year-old pole vaulter from Crawley, who only made the trip out here following a last minute fitness test, landed badly in the pit during the qualifying competition and injured his back.

He was taken to hospital, where X-rays showed he had sustained no serious damage, but he returned, shaken, to the British team hotel with severe bruising to his hip.

It was a miserable exit for an athlete who had not been able to compete since improving his British record to 5.80m in Crete on 27 May, due to a knee injury which was eventually treated by the Swiss doctor, Roland Biedert, whose clinic has previously been used by athletes such as Roger Black and Sally Gunnell.

Diane Modahl, seeking to reach her first major 800m championship final since winning her appeal against a four-year doping ban, failed narrowly, finishing one position outside the four qualifying places with a time of 2min 00.08sec, just behind Natalya Dukhnova of Belarus, who recorded 1.59.95.

Aleksandr Bagach of the Ukraine, who had sparked an appeal after winning the shot putt the previous night because of the weighted bindings around his calfs which might have assisted his speed of turning in the circle, was allowed to keep his gold medal by the official jury.

Another competitor who had cause to be thankful to the officials was Italy's Stephano Tilli, who was disqualified after appearing to get through the previous day's second round of the 100 metres. His offence was unusual - after an altercation with a track marshall, he had struck the man's hat from his head. But he was allowed back into the event after apologising.

The National Anthem played for the first time at these championships after Tanni Grey won the 800m wheelchair race in a time of 2min 06.68sec, holding off the challenge of Germany's Lilly Angrenny and Sweden's Sofia Dettmann.

It was the first European title of an illustrious career for the 29-year- old from Birmingham, who has been competing at international level for 13 years and won the gold medal in this event at the Atlanta Paralympics of 1996.

Christine Arron of France won the women's 100m title in a European record of 10.73sec, after overhauling Russia's fast- starting the defending champion, Irina Privalova, who took the silver in a time of 10.83.

Arron, with a distinctively dyed ginger hair, comes from Guadelope, birth- place of France's world and Olypmpic 400m champion, Marie-Jose Perec.

Walker's run, results, page 22