European Athletics Championships: Smith hits heights to collect silver: High jumper helps set new British tradition off the track

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The Independent Online
ON A NIGHT when the great British tradition of 1500-metre running slipped into embarrassing disrepair, team morale was revived by a silver medal in the high jump from Steve Smith, who, with Dalton Grant, has established a new British tradition in that event over recent years.

While Britain's representatives, Gary Lough and David Strang, finished second last and last respectively in the metric mile, Smith, whose outdoor season has been virtually wiped out by an ankle injury, responded as so often before to a challenge. The world indoor and outdoor bronze medallist cleared 2.33m to share second place with Poland's Arthur Partyka behind Steinar Hoen, of Norway, who cleared 2.35.

Smith walked from the high jump wiping away tears. Of joy or frustration? 'Maybe when I look back tomorrow and realise what a great battle it was they will be tears of joy. But tonight they were tears of disappointment. My coach said before I came out that if I could salvage anything from this year of injuries it would be an excellent performance. Silver: it is better than the '93 World Championships.'

Despite the fact his indoor clearance of 2.38 leads this year's European rankings, an ankle injury Smith sustained in his first outdoor meeting of the season at Gateshead in June ruined his outdoor season up until this competition.

He arrived here on Friday still in pain, with confidence 'at an all-time low'. But intensive treatment from the British team physiotherapist, Neil Black, has improved the ankle to the point where, unexpectedly, he has not had to compete with the help of pain-killing injections.

Smith managed 2.33 at his final attempt. Only two others cleared 2.33, Hoen and Partyka. And when Dragutin Topic and Jaroslaw Kotewicz, who made their final attempts at the next height up, failed, a medal was assured for the former world junior champion.

All three of Smith's attempts at 2.35 were desperately close. After the last of them, he slumped into a vacant judge's chair and covered his face with his hands. 'To be able to jump with no pain was so nice,' he said, his eyes still red. 'But at the end of the day I still didn't have the luck to win a major title. My family said they were really proud of me, that I had never let them down.'

Grant, hoping to add an outdoor European title to the one he won indoors in March, cleared 2.25 but went out at 2.31 on his third attempt.

The men's 1500m, which appeared to offer hope to another of Britain's European indoor champions, Strang, ended in desperate disappointment as he struggled home 20 metres adrift of a field which had the Olympic champion, Fermin Cacho, at the other end of it. After Italy's Gennaro Di Napoli had led the field through the bell and up the back straight, the Spaniard broke clear to win in 3min 35.28sec, followed home by his fellow- countryman, Isaac Viciosa.

'There was no physical problem,' Strang said. 'I just fell out of the back door. It was just awful for the country. Nobody pulls on a British shirt in the 1500 without feeling the responsibility of the great tradition.' Lough's response was: 'I feel embarrassed.' Where are the Coes of today?

Jacqui Agyepong, whose European Cup victory had raised hopes of a 100m hurdles medal, finished only seventh in 13.17sec behind the winner, Svetla Dmitrova, of Bulgaria.

Britain's major contenders in the 400m, Roger Black and Du'Aine Ladejo, reached tomorrow's final with ease, winning their semi-finals in 45.79 and 45.70 respectively.

John Regis may run in the championships after all. The 200m favourite was ruled out of defending his title by an Achilles injury. Last night, though, the team management said he would be flown out tomorrow with a view to running in the 4 x 100m relay. The British spokesman Tony Ward said: 'John's injury has responded to treatment and he has a chance.'

YESTERDAY'S MEDAL-WINNERS

MEN'S 1,500M

1 Fermin Cacho (Sp) 3min 35.27sec

2 Isaac Viciosa (Sp) 3:36.01

3 Branko Zorko (Croa) 3:36.88

MEN'S HIGH JUMP

1 Steinar Hoen (Nor) 2.35m

2= Artur Partyka (Pol) 2.33

2= Steve Smith (GB) 2.33

WOMEN'S 100M HURDLES

1 Svetla Dimitrova (Bul) 12.72sec

2 Yuliya Graudyn (Rus) 12.93

3 Yordanka Donkova (Bul) 12.93

WOMEN'S HEPTATHLON

1 Sabine Braun (Ger) 6,419pts

2 Rita Inancsi (Hung) 6,404

3 Urszula Wlodarczyk (Pol) 6,322

WOMEN'S 10KM WALK

1 Sari Essayah (Fin) 42min 37sec

2 Anna-Rita Sidoti (It) 42:43

3 Yelena Nikolayeva (Rus) 42:43

(Photograph omitted)

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