European Athletics Championships: First is best for Backley and Edwards

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The Independent Online
"GOING BIG early is the key," Steve Backley had said before these European Championships. "That puts the pressure on the others." The Briton followed his plan here to the letter yesterday, winning his third consecutive javelin title with a first-round effort of 89.72m, pressure which none of his rivals could handle.

It was a strategy which also worked perfectly for Jonathan Edwards, who added a European gold to the one had won at the 1995 World Championships with an opening triple jump of 17.84 metres. That too proved beyond any of his competitors.

After a second jump of 17.53 - further than the eventual silver medal- winning distance achieved by Denis Kapustin, of Russia - he sat out the next three rounds, waiting to see if he needed to do more.

When Kapustin, the defending champion, ran through his last jump, that question was answered. The gold belonged to Edwards, but he decided to take his last jump and soared out to 17.99m, two centimetres short of the distance with which he leads this year's world rankings.

"Everything had finished, and the stadium was mine," he said. "But having said that, I didn't feel I was going to jump 17.99. It shocked me, to be honest.

"Denis is a very good jumper, and I was surprised to see him run through like that. That first jump of mine was very important. I think it put everyone under pressure."

The result was a vindication for Edwards, who had received criticism from some quarters of the media for competing too much on the grand prix circuit and putting a title here at risk, particularly as he has been troubled all season with a niggling ankle injury.

"I was annoyed rather than angry at the suggestions made," he said. "But they affected a lot of people I was close to and I feel they were entirely unjustified. Now I have shown that I was right."

Backley's experience on the night mirrored that of Edwards, although in his case the man who came closest to his opening flourish was his friend and training partner, Mick Hill. Hill produced a fifth-round effort of 86.92m, two centimetres below his personal best, to take the silver, with Raymond Hecht, of Germany, third with 86.63.

Backley's winning distance beat his own championship record of 87.45m set in Friday's qualifying - on his first throw, naturally.

Aki Parvianinen, the 22-year-old Finn who had beaten Backley three times out of five this season and leads this year's world rankings with a throw of 90.88, failed to make the cut after the first three rounds.

It was a glorious double for the British throwers, who had prepared for these championships by travelling to the training base of the injured world champion, Jan Zelezny, near Prague, and working with both him and his coach, Jan Pospisil. Zelezny was watching from the stands last night.

"I'm happy that I've done what I wanted to do," Backley said. "And I'm just glad to have played a part in a great night for British athletics."

Hill's fourth-round effort of 85.77 had taken him into fourth place, the position he finished in at Athens last year.

"I thought to myself then, 'I ain't coming fourth again'," Hill said. His next throw secured the position which may enable him to give up work and concentrate on throwing full-time until the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

"I am absolutely thrilled," he said. "I have wanted this all winter, especially after what happened in Athens."

Ireland's James McElroy, the promising youngster who was snapped up to run for Ireland while British and Northern Ireland officials dithered over offering the him a race, missed out on a medal by one place in the 800 metres, which produced one of the upsets of the championships as the world record holder, Wilson Kipketer of Denmark, jogged home a solemn last.

Kipketer, who has raced only three times since returning from a bout of malaria which put him in hospital for 11 days earlier this year, was jostled on the final bend by Nils Schumann, Germany's European junior champion, who won in 1min 44.89sec. A protest by the Danes was subsequently dismissed.

BRITAIN'S MEDALLISTS

Gold

100m: Darren Campbell

200m: Doug Walker

400m: Iwan Thomas

110m hurdles: Colin Jackson

Men's 4x100m Relay

Men's 4x400m Relay

Triple Jump: Jonathan Edwards

Javelin: Steve Backley

Heptathlon: Denise Lewis

Silver

100m: Dwain Chambers

200m: Doug Turner

High Jump: Dalton Grant

Javelin: Mick Hill

Bronze

200m: Julian Golding

400m: Mark Richardson

Women's 4x400m Relay

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