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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

Life and Style
fashion

News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Modern Apprenticeship Assessor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of Scotland's leading train...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Director - SaaS (SME/Channel) - £140,000 OTE

£90000 - £140000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you a high achievin...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Telesales Executive - Cloud Software/SaaS - £37,000 OTE

£25000 - £37000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you seeking to furth...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Manager - Welding, Power Tools and PPE - £45,000 OTE

£25000 - £45000 per annum + car + benefit: h2 Recruit Ltd: A fantastic and uni...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game