Athletics: Young guns promise a brighter tomorrow
Sunday 23 August 1998
The team's performance in picking up six European Championship medals in the space of an hour on Friday night, including a clean sweep in Golding's event, had its prefiguring in the men's European Cup victory seven weeks earlier in St Petersburg. But as the medal count jumped - unexpected silver for Dalton Grant in the high jump, 200m gold, silver and bronze respectively for Doug Walker, Doug Turner and Golding, then gold and bronze for Iwan Thomas and Mark Richardson in the 400m - the rewards exceeded expectations. "British athletics is back now," Golding said. "The talent is all there. And I believe there is more to come."
Ten months after the financial collapse of the British Athletic Federation - a debacle which has still not been fully resolved - the media is full of images of triumphant British athletes with Union Jacks draped round their shoulders. These, of course, are the European Championships, not the worlds or Olympic Games. But as a step back towards greater things in the post-Christie, post-Gunnell era, they are doing nicely.
Before the Championships, most observers were looking towards the 400m, rather than the 200m, to provide a patriotic echo of the European 800m clean sweep of Seb Coe, Tom McKean and Steve Cram 12 years ago. But if the 200m provided the spitfires coming out of the sun, the one-lap event provided the dog-fight. Iwan Thomas, showing all the discipline he had lacked in the previous year's World Cham- pionship final, when he slipped to sixth place after starting too fast, established himself as a performer of real stature with his victory in 44.54sec.
From his position in lane three he could see all his rivals, including Richardson, out in lane six, who appeared to betray an insecurity by going out too fast. When Thomas did arrive inside him going into the final straight, Richardson had no response left.
Despite going into this competition having lost five times out of six to Richardson, who has twice come within 0.01sec of his national record of 44.36sec, Thomas once again came through when it mattered. "The only other occasion I have been focused like this was when I won the AAA trials," he said. "There were times when I was struggling with injuries over the winter when I wondered if I was going to have a season. But now I have done it, and it is still sinking in." A harsher reality is also sinking in for Richardson. He must now hope to bring his full talents to bear in a re-run against Thomas at next month's Commonwealth Games.
In world terms, Walker's 200m winning time of 20.53, was nothing special. But as a championship performance, it was - especially as he was carrying a knee injury which made yesterday's rest from sprint relay duty in the morning necessary as well as welcome. The pressure on Walker to join David Jenkins, who won the 1971 400m title, as a European champion in a sprint event was enormous. "This is a major breakthrough for me," he said.
Grant - who broke through to the top level 12 years ago - gambled for gold after clearing a season's best of 2.34m by passing at 2.36m in favour of 2.38m, which proved too much for him. Artur Partyka, of Poland, failed at 2.36m, but won at 2.34m on countback.
Grant explained yesterday that he had taken his decision because the injections in his knee were wearing off, and he wanted to try and win. It was a characteristically courageous performance from the 32-year-old, who only qualified for the team here at the last minute.
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