Athletics / World Athletics Championships: Johnson's quartet come up with a powerful finale: Americans go out with a bang while Britain add silver and two bronze medals on the final day

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The Independent Online
A STUPENDOUS performance in the 400 metres relay, which saw the United States take a second and a half off the world record they set at the Olympics last August, brought the fourth World Championships to a climactic close here yesterday.

The individual 400m champion, Michael Johnson, his laconic style uncharacteristically distorted with effort, finished 70 metres clear in 2min 54.59sec to register the fifth world record of these championships. Johnson's time for the last leg was 42.93sec, the fastest for anyone over one lap. Even Britain's team from Tokyo 1991 would have struggled to compete with that. This year's team, depleted through illness and injury, failed to reach the final - but there was ample consolation elsewhere on the day.

The conviction that these have been Britain's most successful World Championships gained full statistical backing as three more medals brought their total to 10 - two more than they have ever won before. The men's sprint relay quartet took silver behind the United States in a European record of 37.77sec; the women's 400m relay team, anchored and motivated by Sally Gunnell, took an unexpected bronze; and Steve Smith, in the high jump, took a bronze that was scarcely credible given the fact that he was competing full of pain-killers for a back injury that required physiotherapy, traction and two days' bed-rest before Friday's qualifying round.

The 20-year-old from Liverpool equalled his British record of 2.37m to finish third behind Cuba's world record-holder, Javier Sotomayor, who jumped 2.40, and Artur Partyka of Poland, who recorded less failures than Smith in jumping 2.37.

Smith thus became the first high jump medallist for Britain at a global outdoor championships since Con Leahy took a silver at the 1908 Olympic Games. Having faltered at 2.31, which he cleared on this third attempt, Smith jumped the height which ranked him world No 1 last season at his first attempt; but 2.40, with the painkillers beginning to wear off, proved too much. 'I've never had to compete like this before,' he said. 'It was hairy out there. At one time this week I thought I wouldn't be jumping at all. I'm just relieved I got over 2.31.'

Gunnell added relay bronze to her 400m hurdles gold with a final leg timed unofficially at 49.9sec. After competitive legs by Linda Keough and Phylis Smith, Tracy Goddard, a 23-year-old from Basingstoke, produced the race of her life to hand over the baton to her team captain in third place. Gunnell let the Jamaican runner, Sandie Richards, the world indoor 400m champion, overtake her on the back straight before coming past her on the final bend. Britain's time was 3:23.41; the United States, almost matching the men, won in 3:16.71.

Colin Jackson's preparations for the sprint relay were hardly ideal. After a flying trip back to Britain to act as best man at a wedding, he arrived in Stuttgart yesterday morning having had only two hours' sleep. He maintained parity with the US runner, Jon Drummond, on the opening leg, but Tony Jarrett was overwhelmed by the individual silver medalist, Andre Cason, on the second leg and a poor change-over with John Regis meant that Linford Christie had a hopeless task against Leroy Burrell on the last leg. But there was still a European record of 37.77 for the British. The US winning time was 37.48, fractionally slower than the world record of 37.40 they equalled in the semi-final.

The 10,000m final ended with the 1991 champion, Moses Tanui, of Kenya, running almost all of the final lap without his left shoe after the eventual winner, Haile Gebresilasie, of Ethiopia, had clipped his heels shortly after the bell. Tanui reacted with dismay, beating his head with his fists, before kicking the shoe right off and setting out on a desperate long sprint for home. Running lopsidedly, with every neutral observer willing him on, he was caught and passed halfway down the home straight. After crossing the line in 27:46.02, the Ethiopian, who had received an official warning for baulking runners during the race, tried to placate the Kenyan - with a huge lack of success.

A Kenyan protest was turned down but there was some good news for Kenya, who heard that the disqualification of their 15-year-old, Selina Barsosio, who had finished third in the previous night's women's 10,000m final, was declared to have been the result of a technical error.

The women's 1500m presented the by now familiar spectacle of an unstoppable Chinese woman. This time it was Dong Liu, the 19-year-old who was one of her country's eight world junior champions from last year. She finished 40 metres clear in 4:00.50; Sonia O'Sullivan of Ireland, who had been caught out by the break which saw the Chinese take all three medals in the 3,000m, was sharper this time, and earned the silver ahead of Algeria's Olympic champion, Hassiba Boulmerka. Dong Liu was whistled on her victory lap. Clearly there are widespread doubts about the legality of the methods the Chinese employ.

Ken Jones, results, page 27

(Photograph omitted)