Athletics: Britain's women rise to challenge

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The Independent Online

The newly-appointed UK Athletics president Lynn Davies said Great Britain must be represented by stronger teams after mixed results at Saturday's European Indoor Cup final in Leipzig.

The women's contingent performed beyond expectations when picking up the bronze medal behind Russia and Germany. Their efforts embarrassed their male counterparts, whose underachievers were headed by the Commonwealth 1500 metres champion Michael East, who managed only fourth place, and the high jumper Ben Challenger, who was last. The men finished second bottom of the table as Spain took top honours ahead of Germany and France.

Davies, who took up his appointment on New Year's Day, believes this inaugural event was a great success. The former Olympic long jump gold champion now wants Britain to take it seriously.

The Welshman, a highly respected British team manager during the halcyon days of the 1980s, accepts that it was thrust on the competing nations at short notice and said he can understand why selectors decided not to issue a three-line whip to the leading athletes, knowing many were focusing on the World Indoor Championships while others are in warm-weather training abroad.

"I'm a great believer in team competitions such as this," he said. "In future I would like to see us field our very best teams. They mould the athletes together and create a great team spirit."

After a sticky start, the women's team, bottom after four of the nine events, responded to the lead of team captain Hayley Tullett, who scored a brilliant 1500m victory.

The reigning European indoor 60m champion Jason Gardener was the only man to win his race outright – although captain-for-the-day Jamie Baulch took his 400m with a confident run, but produced only the third fastest time of the day. "Now you know why I'm called the 'Bath Bullet'," said Gardener after a start which blew him into an unbeatable lead ahead of Aristotelis Gavelas of Greece and Russia's Andrey Yepishin.

Jo Fenn, second over 800m, and Chris Tomlinson, third in the long jump, were also among the individual medals while the men's medley relay quartet picked up a bronze.