Athletics: Chambers and Myerscough can set tone for Britain

Athletics World Championships: Sprinter and shot putter can jump-start challenge for team weakened by number of high-profile withdrawals
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The Independent Online

The banners all around the Stade de France fluttered in a pleasant breeze here yesterday. "Courer, sauter, lancer" they proclaimed. Meanwhile Britain's team officials were quietly assessing the prospects of their own runners, jumpers and throwers - and the assessment, according to their performance director, Max Jones, is as follows.

"We have currently got eight medal probables/possibles," Jones said. "And in a good year you tend to get 50 per cent of those."

After the relative disappointment of the last World Championships in Edmonton two years ago, where the only British medals earned were the triple jump gold of Jonathan Edwards - soon to take a giant leap into retirement - and the decathlon bronze of Dean Macey, Jones is hoping at least to double the tangible rewards for a team which has endured a number of crucial withdrawals in recent months.

Following Paula Radcliffe's decision not to contest either the 5,000 or the 10,000 metres after her recent illness and injury, the two most obvious prospects for success in the team appear to be Dwain Chambers, who appears in ideal shape to challenge the American domination of the 100m event, and Carl Myerscough, whose NCAA victory two months ago in a British shot putt record of 21.92m puts him into podium territory.

The performance of this pair could set the tone for Britain's campaign, given that Myerscough completes his competition today, and Chambers will be in action tomorrow and - one hopes - Monday against a field that includes the three-times champion, Maurice Greene, and his US compatriot Tim Montgomery, who succeeded him as world record holder in this city last season with a run of 9.78sec at the Charlety Stadium.

Montgomery, whose form this season has been disappointing to say the least, has had his athletics life disrupted following last month's birth of his child with the former world 100m champion Marion Jones, Tim Jnr. His more recent underwhelming outings - notably in Stockholm earlier this month - he now ascribes to a peanut allergy which he has just discovered. Speaking here yesterday, he confirmed that he was ready to do himself justice.

Such is Mark Lewis-Francis's talent that it would never do to rule him out of medal contention in the 100m, although his last appearance, finishing last in Zurich in 10.20, was not an ideal augury.

But the sprints appear to be Britain's richest potential source of medals, with Christian Malcolm back in the mood to show he is one of the world's finest 200m runners and the sprint relay team also looking capable of troubling the scorers, assuming they do not drop the baton as they did in the last Olympics and World Championships...

Steve Backley, the four-times European javelin champion, cannot be discounted as he seeks his first global title at the age of 33, but given the emphatic victory in Zurich two weeks ago by the world and Olympic champion, Jan Zelezny, the Sidcup athlete appears to be chasing silver or bronze.

Natasha Danvers, recovered from the foot injury which forced her to scratch from the World Championship trials, can earn a medal in the 400m hurdles if she can return to the consistency which has seen her lower her personal best three times this season.

Which leaves two of Britain's athletes of longstanding, Edwards and Denise Lewis, to be considered. Edwards admitted yesterday that the ankle injury he suffered just over a fortnight ago will be on his mind when he lines up for the triple jump qualifying today. But Edwards is not ruling out a final surprise. "If my ankle holds out I am capable of jumping a long way," he said yesterday.

Lewis, seeking to make a significant impact in her first major championship heptathlon since winning the 2000 Olympic title, has arrived here with the man whose appointment as her throws coach has enveloped her in controversy over the past few months.

Many within the sport have castigated her association with Dr Ekkart Arbeit, head of the East German track and field programme at time when a doping regime was in place. But Lewis has stuck with him.

In a statement yesterday, Lewis said she had had to overcome "health problems" in the last four weeks. "I know that I am not in my best form or shape," she said. "I will be happy with anything that equates to reaching a final, that is to say finishing eighth or above."