Athletics: Benjamin provides glimmer of hope in enveloping gloom

As the rain poured down once again last night, another clutch of aspiring medallists were washed away. First out was Nathan Douglas, third in this year's triple jump world rankings, who failed to reach today's final after managing just 16.53 metres, almost a metre down on his best.

The disconsolate 22-year-old was soon joined by 200m runners Christian Malcolm and Marlon Devonish, who departed at the semi-final stage but showed decent speed in making their exits from the stadium.

Devonish summed up the prevailing mood with just one word: "Rubbish".

The Olympic sprint gold medallist has a way with a phrase - he renamed Edmonton, the less-than-lively 2001 World Championships venue as "Dead-monton".

That event produced little in the way of reward for Britain, but the way things have gone this week, the newly installed performance director, Dave Collins, would happily settle for the gold and bronze provided on that occasion by Jonathan Edwards and Dean Macey respectively.

Britain looked to Tim Benjamin to provide a shaft of light in the gloom as he took part in 400m semi-finals conducted in another drenching downpour that must have made him feel he was back home in Cardiff.

"Come on, Tim," the British supporters cried. Where have we heard that before? And what does the Wimbledon echo say about the state of athletics?

Benjamin missed out on one of the two automatic qualifying spots by one hundredth of a second, recording 45.66, and faced a wait until the last semi to find out if he advanced to tomorrow's final as a fastest loser. He did.

"I am chuffed to bits to get to the final," he said "No other Brits have managed to reach a sprint final at the World Championships this year. I need a bit of luck because I'm probably in lane seven or eight now, but I ran well from lane seven when I beat the Olympic champion at Crystal Palace. I hope to get a medal - it's all much of a muchness in the final.

"I'm so cold I found it hard to concentrate tonight because it was raining so hard. It totally altered my race strategy because I couldn't see anyone else."

Kelly Sotherton, fifth in the weekend's heptathlon, but also performed with honour in last night's long jump, taking eighth place with an effort of 6.42m.

"I couldn't expect to do more from that, Sotherton said. "I was so tired I was just so pleased to make the final."

Douglas had entered the championships in apparently ideal shape, having recorded 17.64m at the trials and then won the London grand prix. Douglas arrived at trackside in a qualifying event that had been postponed from the previous evening ready to jump well. It's just that he didn't.

"I'm not sure why it happened," he said after his best effort of 16.53m left him three places outside the 12 who went through. "I don't think I felt under pressure. I wasn't feeling nervous. I'm heartbroken. I was sitting in the rain at the warm-up track afterwards with my hood up, just trying to work out what went wrong. You feel sometimes as if your whole world has collapsed. It felt like a nightmare."

Malcolm's demise was just as distressing given his encouraging early season form, including his European Cup win in 20.15sec. Although he had delayed his arrival here in order to have treatment on a pelvic injury, he insisted after a buoyant run in his opening heat on Tuesday that he was back to his best.

But his grim demeanour afterward he had finished seventh in a time of 21.09sec insisted otherwise. "I can't blame anything," he said. "I felt a bit tired in warm-up, but that's no excuse. I just ran poorly."

Devonish finished in the same place in his semi-final, recording 20.93 in a race won in 20.27 by Tyson Gay.

The women's 400m title went to Tonique Williams-Darling, who contributed tears of joy to the water nature had already provided on the track after a late surge took her past Sanya Richards of the United States in the final 20 metres. The Olympic champion won in 49.55sec, with Richards recording 49.74.

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