Athletics: East's change of direction points to the new world

Britain's brightest middle-distance hope has moved from nowhere man to contender. Simon Turnbull talks to him

While the Morpeth Harrier Nick McCormick was continuing his impressive progress, clocking the fastest time this year by a European, in ninth place, East was at the Norwich Union Great Britain Holding Camp in Turku, getting ready for the 1500m heats on the opening day of the World Championships in Helsinki. It will be the same tomorrow. On the 25th anniversary of the epic 1500m showdown between Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett at the Moscow Olympics, East will have his head down, hammering away on the training track. Ever since he emerged as an international racer of rare natural ability, snatching the 1500m bronze medal at the European Indoor Championships in Vienna in the spring of 2002, the 27-year-old has been regarded as the heir apparent to the British middle-distance kings of old. In reality, he is no Ovett, Coe or Cram, but he is a singular athlete.

East, to borrow a popular title, is East - a modern British middle-distance marvel in his own right. That much has been underlined by the position he has managed to manoeuvre himself into before the World Championships: from no form before the trials in Manchester just three weeks ago to that of a potential contender.

Last summer East continued his ascent towards the peak of the global pile, improving his 1500m personal best to 3min 32.37sec at the Golden Gala meeting in Rome and taking sixth place in the Olympic 1500m final, as the only male British finalist in an individual event on the track in Athens. His hopes of making further significant progress in 2005, however, were seriously undermined by iliotibial band friction syndrome, a knee problem caused by the thick band of tissue that stretches down from the thigh. It kept him off the track from October to March and, even when he returned to training, he was hampered by a compensatory hip injury.

It was not until the trials on 9 July that East tackled his first race of the year, finishing third in his 1500m heat at the Manchester Regional Arena, behind Chris Mulvaney and McCormick. The following day he was third in the final, behind McCormick and Andy Baddeley, clocking an encouraging 3:37.23 but - unsurprisingly - finding himself short of finishing speed in the home straight.

It was different at Crystal Palace nine days ago. In the 1500m at the Norwich Union London Grand Prix. McCormick and Baddeley both smashed their personal bests, the former securing the qualifying time for Helsinki, but East was two-and-a-half seconds ahead of them, back in world-class territory. A close third behind Bernard Lagat, the silver medallist in Athens, and Alan Webb, the US champion, he conjured the second-quickest time of his career, 3:33.32.

It left East himself on the stunned side of surprised. "I was listening to the commentary from the trials," he reflected, "and everyone was saying, 'Great run, coming back from injury'. I had an epidural in March. That's not a pissy injury. It's a major medical action. It hit me hard. I'm an athlete who needs his winter background, because aerobically I'm not very strong. It was always going to take its toll.

"Racing in Manchester kickstarted my system and the training sessions I did after that pretty much replicated what I was doing in Cyprus, in the British holding camp, before the Olympics last year. It's races that move you on, though, and Crystal Palace has done that for me. There's nothing like being competitive and I was competitive there."

It remains to be seen how competitive East can be through the rigours of three rounds in Helsinki. His event, however, happens to be wide open this year, with Hicham El Guerrouj, the Olympic champion and four-times world champion, absent because of a virus, and Lagat ineligible to compete following a winter switch of national allegiance from Kenya to the United States. The world rankings are headed by Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain with a time of 3min 30.00sec, although the emerging 20-year-old Kenyan Daniel Kipchirchir Komen (not to be confused with 29-year-old Daniel Kipngetich Komen, the 3,000m world record holder), the muscular Ukrainian Ivan Heschko and the adopted Qatari Dahame Bashir, formerly David Nyaga of Kenya, are all equally likely contenders.

Bashir emerged victorious from the Dream Mile in 3:47.97, ahead of Lagat and Komen, with McCormick ninth in 3:52.02, taking a whopping 15.43sec off his personal best as well as the scalp of Portugal's Rui Silva, the Olympic bronze medallist tipped by El Guerrouj to take his world crown.

Not that East is talking up his own medal prospects. "I'm looking at it the same way I did at the AAA Champion-ships," he said. "I've got to get through to the final. If I do that, then I can make a reassessment."

East's coach, Mark Rowland, has travelled with him to Finland in a similarly pragmatic frame of mind. "Before Crystal Palace, my major thought was, 'Can he get into shape just to make it worth going to Helsinki?' " he reflected. "After everything that's happened, there's no real pressure on him. Whatever he does will be a bonus."

It will indeed - for East and for his coach, who knows all about the golden days of Ovett, Coe and Cram. Winner of the UK 1500m title and the Emsley Carr Mile in 1985, Rowland was obliged to move from the middle distances to the 3,000m steeplechase to make his name as an international athlete. That name still stands alongside the British record he set as a brilliant Olympic bronze medallist over the barriers in Seoul in 1988.

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
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

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum