Backley's quest for balance

Norman Fox says Britain's golden javelin hope may settle for the silver
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THE task of enlivening Britain's muted success so far in the world athletics championships falls today to Kelly Holmes and Steve Backley. But if they are to win through she must forget what she considered to be "failure" in merely winning the silver medal in the 1500 metres by running to her full potential in today's 800m, while he has been informed that he must produce a personal best to claim gold.

After seeing his long-standing rival Backley qualify for the final with his first throw on Friday, Jan Zelezny, the Olympic champion and world record-holder, said: "I thought he looked good but I've done a lot of preparation. I've been training harder than I usually do at this time of the season. I wasn't happy with my first throw here but I think whoever wins on Sunday will have to do 90 metres or more, maybe even break the world record."

That was the mark he set in Sheffield in 1993. In other words, if Backley or Britain's other qualifier, Mick Hill, are to have any chance, they are likely to be looking for personal bests. So far this season the best by Backley is 88.54m compared with Zelezny's 90.80. The Czech's world record stands at 95.66m.

Backley's slight change of stance as he delivers the javelin has helped him to become more consistent. These days he finishes his run almost square- on, but the more important reason for his confidence this summer is the advice of Dr Ron Holder, a South African specialist in sports medicine, who told the European and Commonwealth champion to balance himself perfectly by placing slips of paper in one of his shoes. Zelezny has also taken advice from Dr Holder after he was troubled by a serious back problem two years ago. Only a few weeks after seeking out the doctor about balance, Zelezny broke the world record.

Backley thinks that as well as Zelezny, the German Raymond Hecht, who has thrown the season's best of 92.60m, will be a threat. "I've been breathing down his neck all season," Backley said. So the manner in which he qualified for the final made all of his opponents take notice. A first throw of 83.20 brought him instant qualification, as did Hill's 83.54. Realistically, a silver medal is the best Britain can hope for from Backley unless, as he says, he can suddenly produce "a big one".

A silver is also a realistic target for Holmes, who is saved the task of facing Maria Mutola, the finest woman runner of the present era. Mutola, of Mozambique, was disqualified on Friday night for running out of her lane.

Holmes has been moping a lot since Wednesday's defeat by Hassiba Boulmerka, of Algeria, whose experience both as Olympic and world champion was crucial. Holmes, like Yvonne Murray and Liz McColgan in the 10,000m, had been carrying expectations that were too high. However, Sergeant Holmes is a resilient character and by yesterday morning was beginning to perk up. "It took a while to get it out of my system. After being persuaded that a silver was no failure after only three seasons of high-level running, it would have been wrong to aim just for any medal. If you do that you get nothing. So I'm back aiming for gold in the 800." The fact that she was only sixth highest qualifier illustrates the job she faces.

If Linford Christie has again drawn most of the publicity here, Noureddine Morceli should drag attention back to another of this era's outstanding champions when, barring tying his shoelaces together, no one else will stop him again being 1500m world champion. Britain's Gary Lough has done well even to get to the final. Africa's hold on distance running is expected to be challenged, though, in the 5,000m final. Dieter Baumann, the German Olympic champion is in sparkling form.