European Athletics Championships: Middle classes fire silver salvo: Denmark is unable to box clever

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ROB DENMARK and Kelly Holmes put a silvery sheen on Britain's middle-distance running yesterday at the end of a week where, Yvonne Murray's 3,000 metres performance excepted, there had been no tangible rewards in that previously profitable area.

Denmark, who made the bold and not universally popular decision to miss the European Cup at the beginning of the season, was vindicated by a performance that brought him the major championship medal his talent deserves.

The 25-year-old from Billericay felt he might have had gold had he entered the home straight on level terms with the eventual winner, Germany's Olympic champion Dieter Baumann. But that was never going to be the case once Denmark, whose seemingly frail frame was bashed and shoved throughout a slow, tactical race, had lost track of the German and got himself boxed in the final lap.

'I was in trouble with 400 metres to go,' he said. 'I was totally boxed in, but I didn't panic. It was sheer terror down the home straight, though. I can't even remember how I got out of trouble.'

As Baumann began to wind up the pace, Denmark tried in vain to thread a way through the field. By the time he was able to step out and get a clear run, 120 metres had gone by and the German was away, glancing constantly over his shoulder as Denmark gave desperate chase.

Denmark nevertheless re- emphasised the ability he displayed to such crushing effect in last year's European Cup final. That triumph was followed by disappointment at the World Championships: now he has done things the right way round. That confidence will be essential as he prepares to take on the African runners at the Commonwealth Games.

Holmes will also approach the Games in Victoria next week with renewed self-belief after a characteristically determined sprint down the finishing straight took her past Russia's 42-year-old mother of two Yekaterina Podkopayeva and into second place behind the 1500m winner, Lyudmila Rogachova. The winning time, 4min 18.93sec, was the slowest at these championships since the event was introduced in 1969.

It was a scrum, and Corporal Holmes kept her elbows out and coped. 'When I got so close to the Russian I thought 'silver is better than bronze', but I was going for the gold,' she said. 'You need a medal to make a breakthrough. Now I know that I can be the world's No 1.'

This latest success will make her imminent decision about whether to take a sergeant's training course next year or quit the army for athletics even more difficult. Meanwhile it's back to work on Tuesday at Aldershot, where she is a physical training instructor.

For once, Sally Gunnell walked off a track after a championship event without a medal. She was left with too much to do to catch the third- placed German in the 400m relay after a poor changeover with Phylis Smith and an even poorer one between Smith and Linda Keogh. There were tears afterwards from Keogh, who put the team manager Verona Elder's shoulder to traditional use.

Richard Nerurkar's hopes of a medal in the marathon faded as the Spanish trio of Martin Fiz, Diego Garcia and Alberto Juzdado, who had spent two months training together at altitude in Segovia, combined harmoniously to prevent the British World Cup champion from making his fast finish tell. Fiz won in 2hr 10min 31sec.

'I am very disappointed,' said Nerurkar, who was a lonely, neckerchiefed fourth in 2:11:56. 'I ran a good race, I kept my rhythm, but they were just too strong for me. The last two miles were very tough. It is a very different sensation from being on your way to winning a marathon.'

Craig Winrow finished sixth in a slow 800m final won by a decisive tactical strike from Italy's Andrea Benvenuti, who outsprinted Europe's fastest man this year, Vebjorn Rodal of Norway.

(Photograph omitted)