Athletics: Wariso looks at home in alien dimension

European Indoor Athletics Championships: Britain's best hopes of winning gold rest with the elevated and the eccentric; Adam Szreter enters the weird world of the British sprinter Solomon Wariso
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The Independent Online
IF THE art of becoming a star is believing that you are, then Solomon Wariso does not have far to go. Only time will tell whether it is as an athlete, or a writer, or any other vocation this immensely likeable and obviously talented Londoner chooses to pursue. But if it is to be as a sprinter then, at 31, Wariso knows time is running out.

After two minutes' conversation with Wariso you would be ready to believe anything. He talks like he runs - extremely fast.

Born in Portsmouth of Nigerian parents - his father was in the Navy - the family moved to London in 1971. A late developer, Wariso's first brush with fame was of the notorious variety when he was sent home from the 1994 European Championships after traces of ephedrine were detected in his body. He had been given what he probably thought was a harmless stimulant called Up Your Gas, although Wariso with upped gas is a frightening thought. Understandably, perhaps, he is now reluctant to discuss it. "That's all anyone asks me about, and I'm not talking about it," he said.

Four years later, after recovering from the mental damage of his three- month ban as well as various injuries, Wariso has come almost full circle. "In '96 I was walking around with a big lump sticking out of my groin," he kindly explained. "I think I was training too heavy, plus I had a hernia operation in '92 and the scar tissue had hardened. It was jagged and I was on painkillers all the time.

"Then I had an Achilles problem and I dropped a 20-kilo weight on my big toe in training and crushed it, so I took last year off, just dossing and stuff, writing and making a video with a friend about scooters." The writing he refers to extends to a burgeoning career as a freelance journalist and he has even written a film script called Sweet Dreams of Escape.

"It's a sci-fi film," he said. "The guys I was working with thought I was on acid because they think all my ideas are a bit weird, which is true. It's set on an alternative earth in another dimension in 1998 but they're about 500 years ahead of us. They're on Mars, on the moon, there's a big tunnel that connects America to Britain, a race of 35-40 British genetically engineered superhumans created by the Government, like International Rescue. The world's getting ripped apart and I've got to go to other dimensions to fight aliens. That's it basically."

Back in the establishment world, a tunnel under the Atlantic would suit Wariso just fine now as much of his Lottery grant is spent on travelling to America to train under Nigeria's Commonwealth 400 metres record holder, Innocent Egbunike. Wariso himself has switched to the longer sprint so far this season with outrageous success, running the year's best time at his very first attempt. But although he lines up in the 400m heats at the European Indoor Championships in Valencia today, and should be among the favourites for Sunday's final, he has not completely forsaken the 200.

"People say I've given up the 200, but I haven't," he insisted. "I know I'm good enough to be British No 1 in the 200 and in the top two or three in the 400. But remember I'm 31, and when you do the 400 metres year in year out, your body's going to break down. As I've come into it relatively late, I've had a few years off with injuries and when I couldn't really be bothered, I should still be quite fresh."

He would like to attempt both events at this year's European Championships in Budapest, a la Michael Johnson, but the schedule prevents it so he intends to run one in Budapest and the other at the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia. But what makes him think he will find the kind of sustained motivation he has often lacked in the past?

"I'm getting married this year," he replies, finding a photograph of his Australian fiancee Vicki. "She doesn't want to have a slacker on her hands. I've been a slacker too long, know what I mean?" It is hard for anyone to know exactly what Wariso means, but you get the impression he means well. Whether he means business is another matter.