Athletics: Benjamin provides lone highlight with 400m best

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The Independent Online

Despite being in hospital for a month earlier this year after a back injection went horrifically wrong, the 23-year-old Welshman has shown tremendous staying power and is looking good for medals next season at both the Commonwealth Games and European Championships.

However the increasingly disparate nature of international athletics was made plain once again as only a handful of Britons took part in the meeting, an occasion that was once one of their great gathering points.

It is almost a quarter of a century since Sebastian Coe established a new world mile record of 3min 47.33sec on this track. British athletics does not expect such feats now - simply to have representatives present is enough for now.

Despite arriving in the Belgian capital weary from a heavy racing programme in Helsinki, Zurich and Sheffield - where he finished second in the 400m behind the Commonwealth champion Michael Blackwood - Benjamin had the objective of increasing his points tally to ensure he can claim a place at next month's World Athletics final in Monaco.

For the other British entrants - Mo Farah, who set a 1500m personal best at last week's Golden League meeting in Zurich; Donna Fraser, who was stepping down from her specialist distance to race over 200m; Emma Ania and Anyika Onuora, entrants for the 100m; and Janine Whitlock, who had a place in the women's pole vault competition - last night was simply about ticking over.

Just as the recent World Championships saw too many days when British athletes were not even in contention for the medals, the Golden League programme has pointed up the lamentable lack of depth in UK athletics.

This week's announcement that Mark Lewis-Francis is moving from Birmingham to London and establishing a new routine with the group coached by Tony Lester established what could be a crucial template for providing the country with a generation of athletes capable of meeting national expectations when the 2012 Olympics arrive in the capital.

Dave Collins, the UK Athletics' performance director, praised Lewis-Francis for addressing what was a difficult decision in leaving the coach who had guided him since he was a 12-year-old, Steve Platt. Collins insisted that Lewis-Francis had required only the lightest of nudges to embrace his brave new world, and hinted broadly that there remained other British athletes who might require, and who would receive, greater pressure in order to reshape their preparations.

But at least British athletes have been able to take up numerous places in the international meetings which have been scheduled this season in London and Sheffield. For the Belgian hosts, their prized annual meeting represented another stark reminder of their failing stock as a nation of athletes, a reminder that was all the more galling given the memory of the man after whom this meeting is named, double Olympic silver medallist Ivo van Damme.

Commentators in Le Soir lamented that fact that only 11 home athletes were in action, criticising the International Association of Athletics Federation's choice of events for this year's Golden League programme, which left two of their leading performers - high jumper Tia Hellebaut and pole vaulter Kevin Rans - with no event to contest.

That left just one main home hope - sprinter Kim Gevaert in a 200mmade more open by the absence of the American world champion, Allyson Felix.

Meanwhile, two former Olympic gold medallists, Allan Wells and Eric Liddell, have been proposed for induction into Scottish athletics' hall of fame. Wells, winner of the 100m in Moscow in 1980, will be at the Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow tomorrow to accept his award.