Athletics: British hopes of gold pipped on line as Chambers falters

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The Independent Online

Gold glimmered on the British horizon here on the final day of the ninth World Championships before turning into silver and bronze, contributed respectively by the men's sprint team and 1,500 metres runner Hayley Tullett.

With three strides of the sprint relay remaining, Dwain Chambers was set to gild the disappointment of earning nothing in the 100m by securing the first win of the championships for a British team whose underwhelming performance has incurred widespread criticism. But a final thrust from the faster-finishing Joshua J Johnson saw the Americans retain a title they have held since 1999 by the space of two hundredths of a second - 38.06sec to 38.04.

There had been hopes that Steve Backley, seeking his first global javelin title here after 15 years of top-class achievement, would be able to contribute a further medal, so helping to double Britain's overall total following Kelly Holmes's 800m silver and Darren Campbell's 100m bronze earlier in the week.

However, the 34-year-old Sidcup athlete fell disappointingly short of that ambition, failing to make the cut for the final round of three throws. Tullett, with an inspired personal best of 3min 59.95sec, became a surprise donor though, leaving Britain with a medal haul which at least corresponded to the conservative estimate of the UK Athletics Performance Director, Max Jones.

Chambers, a shattered and disillusioned figure after his fourth place in the individual 100m, was phlegmatic after this defeat, wandering good-naturedly through the interview area clutching a bottle of champagne. "He did me on the line," he said. "It should have been gold." He was right. At the end of the day, Britain's No.1 sprinter, who was provided with a stride-and-a-half lead at the final changeover by the combined efforts of Christian Malcolm, Darren Campbell and Marlon Devonish, should have been able to deal with a 200m specialist, albeit one with a 100m personal best of 9.95sec.

With three of their top sprinters unavailable - the disgraced Jon Drummond, the injured Maurice Greene and the absent-without-leave world record-holder Tim Montgomery - the American team looked at their most vulnerable for six years. It was an opportunity similar to the one which was taken by the British 400m relay team at the 1991 World Championships, where Kriss Akabusi ran an inspired final leg.

Inspiration is perhaps the one thing Chambers needs right now. "The fact that I was ahead didn't make any difference to me because I was running blind," Chambers added. "At least I have a medal to go home with."

So too does Tullett, a 30-year-old part-time games mistress from Swansea, who seemed dazed with her achievement in a race won by Russia's Tatyana Tomashova in 3min 58.52sec, with the world No 1 this year, Turkey's Ayhan Sureyya, having to settle for silver in 3:59.04.

"I didn't know how to react," said Tullett, who overhauled Russia's Yekaterina Rozenburg in the final 50 metres to record the finest achievement of her career but needed to see the replay on the big screen before she believed it. "I said to myself: 'What do I do now? Do I run round the track? No. I haven't won.' So I just walked off and started giving some bad interviews."

Tullett, who said that she would not have continued running if this season had not proved to be better than the last, was less than technical in appraising her tactics in the final part of the race. "Just bloody run, basically," she said, before putting her hand over her mouth at the shocking language. "Head down and just go for the line."

Backley, who had struggled to qualify for the final, was unable to raise his game and could manage no better than 80.13m with his first three efforts, missing the cut of the top eight men by one position. For once, defending champion Jan Zelezny of the Czech Republic also had a bad day, finishing one place outside the medals in a competition won by Russia's Sergey Makarov with 85.44m. "I felt good in my mind, but my body didn't react in the way I wanted it to do," Backley said. "My legs were really poor and my run-up was jerky. The biggest frustration was seeing guys I know I can defeat not throwing particularly far in an arena where I normally throw well."

The keenly anticipated meeting-in-the-middle over 5,000m between the 1,500m champion Hicham El-Guerrouj and Ethiopia's 10,000m gold medallist Kenenisa Bekele saw the former come out on top, tottering with effort as he crossed the line in 12:52.83 to Bekele's 12:53.12. But a Kenyan, Eliud Kipchoge, surprised both the champions by stealing through for the gold in 12:52.79.

The woman who might have brightened the British picture here with an early gold, Paula Radcliffe, has announced that she will return to competitive action at next Sunday's Nike 10km run in Richmond Park. She will then run in the Flora Light Women's 5km Challenge in Hyde Park the following Sunday, when she is due to face the woman whom she succeeded as marathon world record-holder and the winner of yesterday's race in 2hr 23min 55sec, Kenya's Catherine Ndereba.

The evening had begun with Jonathan Edwards, who ended his triple jumping career here this week, receiving a lifetime achievement award from the president of the IAAF, Lamine Diack. For all the efforts of Tullett and the sprint relay team, it was to be the only British appearance on the top of the podium at these World Championships.