Athletics: Chambers wrestles with pain of failure

Dwain Chambers stepped out of the lobby of his hotel in Bercy here yesterday afternoon, clad in a brilliant white tracksuit. The sun shone from a clear blue sky, its warmth mitigated by a breeze, and the 25-year-old Londoner was off to do some shopping. He couldn't have been more wretched.

Chambers had still not seen a replay of his defeat in the previous night's World Championship 100 metres final - "I will at some point. No time soon" - but in his mind, the race was running over and over, along with the accompanying stats. Fourth. 10.08 seconds. Fourth. 10.08 seconds.

"It's a bad dream," said the man who holds the joint European record at 9.87sec, although after a sleepless night it was probably more accurate to describe it as a waking nightmare.

Having made a gradual but impressive return from injury this season, all had seemed set for the European champion to take the one final step up to global success. "This is the most important time of my life," he had said beforehand. "It's going to be make or break." The task for Chambers now is to decide which of those two options apply.

Yesterday he was still clearly stunned by his failure to capitalise upon an occasion that, in retrospect, appeared ideally suited for him to achieve his hugely desired breakthrough.

Maurice Greene, the defending champion, had not even made the final, and the other two US runners, the world record holder Tim Montgomery and the trials winner Bernard Williams, could only manage fifth and sixth place, respectively.

Just 0.01sec separated him from the winner, Kim Collins of St Kitts and Nevis. A blink of time. But it might as well have been an hour.

Losing out on the bronze to his fellow Briton Darren Campbell, who was given the same time, did not compound his disappointment, because for Chambers the only relevant position was first.

In defeat, he had fled the scene thunder-faced and without comment. After his torments at the Commonwealth Games last season, when he broke down in a final he was expected to win, there was a sinking sense of déjà vu.

"I was thinking, 'Not again. This can't happen to me. I've failed again and I don't know why,'" Chambers reflected, tears beginning to well up.

"I had it there. It was there for the taking. That's why it's so difficult... I ran the final with the intention of accelerating hard. But I got to a certain part of the race when I had no more.

"I wasn't in control during the final. I felt like I was fighting all the way from the gun to the tape, and that's the wrong frame of mind to be in. I don't know what happened. It just wasn't my time."

The question of when it will be his time is something that will occupy both Chambers and his coach, Remy Korchemny, in the coming weeks and months as the Olympics draws ever closer.

And the fact that there is now another bright young contender in the frame, in the form of Trinidad's 18-year-old silver medallist Darrel Brown, can hardly have lifted his tormented spirits.

Chambers denies that he crumbled under pressure, pointing out that he came back to win the European Championships as favourite just a fortnight after his Commonwealth débâcle. But he remained at a loss to explain his disappointing performance. "Maybe my own personal expectations were too high," he mused. "Maybe I tried to hard."

Tomorrow is a new day for the British No 1. The sun will still be shining. But he still won't be world champion...

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