Britain's sprint relay team go in search of gold

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Britain's 400 metres relay runners, buoyed up by Roger Black's silver medal in the individual event, will set out today to revive their country's flagging fortunes on the track. They will be seeking to do at least as well as Black did in finishing behind Michael Johnson, and hoping there may be a faint glimpse of gold.

If Britain are to emulate their 400m relay victory in the 1991 World Championships, however, they will need the Americans to make mistakes, as they did on that occasion in Tokyo. Black, who played his part in that win, said yesterday: "This is the best British 4x400 relay squad ever assembled. There is no point in going on to the track unless you are going out to win. We know Michael Johnson will be there but everyone remembers '91 and all our team will be going for it."

Linford Christie's last Olympic fling also starts today as Britain's sprint relay team seek to qualify for tomorrow's final. Christie, who failed to reach the 200 metres semi-finals, was attempting to adopt a philosophical viewpoint as he looked forward to today's events.

"I am still Linford Christie," he said. "I will always be known as an Olympic champion. It will be the same in the relay - I will go out there and do what I have done all along."

The 36-year-old Briton, traumatised by his disqualification from the 100m final on Saturday night for two false starts, was not expected to do great things in the 200m, but he must have hoped to progress further. He has at least mended his fences with the man who accused him of affecting his concentration before the 100m final when he disputed the disqualification, Ato Boldon.

"Just so everybody knows," Boldon said, "Christie and I have kissed and made up, like real men should."

While Britain can only hope for an athletics gold now, Sweden and Norway will go away from these Games with rare titles. Ludmila Enquist's victory for her adopted country in the 100m hurdles was Sweden's first track gold since Anders Garderud won the steeplechase in 1976, while Vebjoern Rodal's achievement in winning the 800m brought Norway their first track gold in Olympic history.

Rodal tracked the 36-year-old American Johnny Gray until the final bend, when he accelerated to register an Olympic record of 1min 42.58sec and become the fifth fastest runner of all-time. His achievement, which was swiftly marked by a message of congratulation from Norway's Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, establishes him as one of the men most likely to break Sebastian Coe's 15-year-old world record of 1min 41.73sec, the longest standing record in the track programme.

Hezekiel Sepeng, who became the first black South African to win an Olympic medal by taking silver in 1:42.74, is another contender, as is the Kenyan- born Wilson Kipketer, who leads this year's world rankings with 1:42.51 but has not yet gained full Danish nationality The IOC require him to reside in Denmark for another year.

Sepeng, 22, only took up serious running four years ago after realising he would not make it as a professional footballer; he ran initially without shoes because he could not afford them.

It had been his aim to win an Olympic medal since 1992, when South Africa were allowed back into the Games after a 30-year ban for their apartheid policies. Both their medallists in Barcelona were white.

Sepeng, who beat his own South African record, said: "The record was for me but the medal is for my country." He then pointed to and repeated the words scrawled with a marker pen on his running vest: "God help me, give me power."

Deon Hemmings, who succeeded the injured Sally Gunnell as 400m hurdles champion, was also busy with her pen in the run-up to the Games. The Jamaican, who trains in Austin, Texas, came across a magazine article forecasting a clean sweep of medals for the American trio. She scored them out, and wrote her own name at the top.

And lo, it came to pass, as she finished in an Olympic record of 52.82sec ahead of the American pair of Kim Batten and Tonja Buford-Bailey, who had won gold and silver respectively at last year's World Championships.

It was the second record Gunnell lost on the night - Angie Thorp beat her eight-year-old British 100m hurdles mark of 12.82, recording 12.80 but missing a place in the final.

Ashia Hansen, who has previously faltered on the big occasion, did not do so in the first women's triple jump final in Olympic history. But her distance of 14.49m only earned her fifth place behind Inessa Kravets of the Ukraine, who won with 15.33, the second longest jump ever behind her own world record of 15.50.

n The world pole vault champion Sergei Bubka of Ukraine has fled Atlanta after pulling out of the Olympics with an injury, an associate in his home town said yesterday. "Sergei was so upset that he simply ran away from Atlanta. No one knows where he is now." Mikhail Tyutyunyk, commercial director of Bubka's sports club in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, said by telephone. "He seems to have decided to take time out to recover from this shock."

Bubka withdrew on Wednesday because of an Achilles tendon injury, complaining of severe pain. The holder of 35 world records warmed up for the final with the bar set at 5.70 metres, but picked up his belongings and left the arena.