Athletics: Britain fear for now - and plan for then - More Sports - Sport - The Independent

Athletics: Britain fear for now - and plan for then

Lewis-Francis in danger of being left behind but young sprinters in the wings suggest a brighter future

Had it not been for the small matter of London being unable to deliver the stadium it promised, the Norwich Union AAA Championships, which opened yesterday in the Manchester Regional Arena, would have been the trials for World Championships in England's capital just four weeks' hence. As it is, the 2005 national championships are qualifiers for World Championships that have been passed on to Helsinki - World Championships in which British athletes are unlikely to suffer altitude sickness from ascending the medal rostrum.

It is a sobering starting point on the long road to the London Olympics of 2012, never mind to the 2005 World Championships which open in Helsinki on 6 August, that Britain happens to have just two athletes ranked in the top six in the world in standard Olympic track and field events. Paula Radcliffe is the world No 1 for 2005 in the marathon and Kelly Sotherton is the world No 3 in the heptathlon. And even they are far from secure medal favourites.

Radcliffe's form and fitness were short of the mark at the European Cup First League meeting in Leiria, Portugal, last month, while the re-emergence of Eunice Barber and the emergence of young American Hyleas Fountain have provided Sotherton with more rivals to worry about than the two women who finished ahead of her at the Athens Olympics: Carolina Kluft and Austra Skujyte.

With Dame Kelly Holmes suffering from an Achilles problem and confessing she is "less and less likely" to place her reputation on the line in Helsinki, the only other Great British source of real hope for medals is the men's 4 x 100 metre relay team, although not the same four who memorably struck Olympic gold last summer. Individually, Jason Gardener, Darren Campbell, Marlon Devonish and Mark Lewis-Francis were showing no hints of a Midas touch a year ago, none of the four reached the finals of the 100m or 200m in Athens. In that respect, then, the prospects for Helsinki could be described as promising.

Gardener and Lewis-Francis are ranked joint 21st in the world this year, with identical clockings of 10.13sec. In the final yesterday Gardener prevailed in 10.26sec, with Lewis-Francis second in 10.30sec. Neither performance will have struck any fear into the hearts of the world's leading speed merchants, although Gardener was happy enough to add a fourth AAA 100m title to a collection that includes the world and European indoor 60m crowns. "In the right race, I'm capable of getting under ten seconds," he said.

The "Bath Bullet", who shot under the 10sec barrier in Lausanne six years ago, with a run of 9.98sec, might have to do so again if he is to reach the final in Helsinki. At least he has a place in the team, though. Campbell, short of fitness following a hip injury, bowed out in the semi-finals, clocking 10.48sec, a season's best. He then withdrew from the field for the 200m today. "I'll leave it to the youngsters to have the chance that they deserve," he said, "but I'm not finished yet."

Neither, by any means, is Devonish. The fastest qualifier of the final, with a semi-final time of 10.19sec, the Coventrian was disqualified for a false-start but has shown more than sufficient sharpness at the shorter distance to promise a memorable battle with the in-form Christian Malcolm at his principal distance, 200m, this afternoon. As for Lewis-Francis, he left the arena clutching his left hamstring. "I've been told it's a minor tear," he said.

The Birchfield Harrier will be 29 for the London Olympics, but his sprinting career has been stuck in neutral, if not reverse, since the night he lined up as co-favourite for the Commonwealth Games 100m final and finished a hamstrung seventh. That was three years ago in the City of Manchester Stadium across the way from the AAA Championships venue.

The danger for Lewis-Francis, unless he manages to regain momentum, is being overtaken in the race towards London 2012. Thankfully for Britain's long-term prospects, there is a wealth of sprinting talent in these shores. One Staffordshire household alone boasts 17-year-old Alex Nelson, a 10.31sec 100m runner who travels to Marrakesh this week as favourite for the world youth title, and 14-year-old Ashleigh Nelson, who ran a scorching 11.64sec for 100m at the English Schools' Championships in Birmingham on Friday.

The English Schools' Championships have long been a rich source of British Olympic track and field talent. Back in 1973, at the Bebington Oval, the intermediate boys' 3,000m final was won by a coltish Sebastian Coe. Seven years later he was a thoroughbred winner of the Olympic 1500m crown in Moscow. Seven years from now Britain's best athletes will be going for Olympic gold in the Games Lord Seb helped to win for London.

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Supply teachers needed- Worthing!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Supply teachers needed for va...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Secondary Supply Teacher Lowestoft

£110 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad are currently look...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week