Athletics: Benjamin thunders into semi-finals as storms hit Helsinki

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The 200 metres quarter-finals, for which Christian Malcolm and Marlon Devonish had qualified earlier in the day, were also postponed. Both events are due to take place today, although the weather forecast is similarly dire.

Instead of athletics, spectators were offered a son et lumière show of cataclysmic power which transformed the track into a shallow lake and cleared all but a lunatic fringe from the uncovered sections of the stadium.

"I have lived here all my life, 22 years, and I have never seen this before," said one drenched volunteer. The thought occurred that these Championships had been destined for London until the Government's U-turn. Perhaps this was the Revenge of Picketts Lock.

A similar downpour affected the World Cup events at Barcelona in 1989, but caused delays rather than actual postponements.

But nothing was raining on Tim Benjamin's parade yesterday. The phrase "supremely confident" is not one with which any British athlete had been associated at these Championships - until yesterday, when the 400m runner pronounced himself just that after breaking 45 seconds for the second time in three weeks.

The 23-year-old from Cardiff was the fastest of the first-round qualifiers with 44.85sec, just 0.1 slower than he managed at Crystal Palace last month when he ran his first sub-45 to defeat the Olympic champion, Jeremy Wariner.

The American qualified in a more conservative 45.24 for this evening's semi-finals, but Benjamin, who had to spend most of March flat on his back in hospital after an injection in his back accidentally punctured his spine, has drawn further comfort from the confirmation of his world-class status. "I feel in the shape of my life and I want to maximise it," he said. "I'm supremely confident and I'm just looking forward to the next couple of days."

Benjamin's team-mate Robert Tobin, the European Under-23 champion, also advanced with a time of 45.51, finishing second to Wariner, but 46.14 was not enough to take Malachi Davis, Britain's adopted American, onwards.

Malcolm was another Briton in buoyant mood after winning his opening 200m heat in style. He admitted that he had had trouble sleeping, but any anxieties he might have had after delaying his arrival here in order to receive treatment for a pelvic tilt problem were dispersed by his easy victory in 20.36sec. His smile as he crossed the line told its own story.

"Everything is back on line," he announced. "I've had good mental preparation as well as the physical side, so I'm not going to put a limit on what I can do."

Devonish, who reached the 100m semi-finals on Sunday, looked less impressive but came through with 20.75sec to take third place in his heat.

Weather of a different kind had disrupted proceedings earlier in the day, with strong winds affecting all athletes. It proved a particular hazard in the men's pole vault qualifying event, where competition was delayed for an hour after Finland's Matti Mononen had lost control and crashed down on the bar so heavily that he broke off one of the supports.

The two groups were forced to use one stand while the equipment was repaired and, after urgent discussions involving the former Olympic pole vault champion Sergey Bubka, a council member for the International Association of Athletics Associations, the qualifying standard was reduced to 5.60 metres.

Bubka knows well the foibles of the pole vault in Helsinki. In the first World Championships, held here in 1983, the pole vault finals lasted more than seven hours after heavy rain and wind forced cancellation of the qualifying round.

Douglas will go into his triple jump qualifying having been without the services of his coach, Ted King, since Sunday, when King was taken to hospital with a serious inner ear infection, but had planned to watch his athlete's performance on television from his bed. At least the unexpected turn of events offered him the chance for a little more recuperation.

Meanwhile, it was announced that Chris Lambert had not regained fitness in time for the sprint relay, which reduced Britain's squad for the event to five, including European junior champion, Craig Pickering.