Athletics: Fenn bronze proves only consolation for Britain

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The Independent Online

The manic nature of the British experience here at the 10th World Indoor Championships - up with 60 metres gold medallist, Jason Gardener, on Friday, down with the fallen 1500m favourite, Kelly Holmes, on Saturday - was maintained to a particularly bitter end yesterday as Jo Fenn took an unexpected third place at 800m but Michael East was denied a bronze medal in the 1500m after being disqualified.

Although only three or four medals were predicted by the head coach, Max Jones, from a 25-strong team that included many inexperienced performers, the hard fact is that Britain has never done worse than its total of two medals since these championships began in 1987.

In his desperation to hang on to what would have been his first global medal, the 26-year-old Commonwealth champion railroaded the challenge of the fourth-placed finisher, Laban Rotich, forcing the Kenyan from lane one to lane five in the course of his final 14 strides. Had the race gone for another 10 metres, Rotich could have taken a seat in the stands.

The Kenyan protest came as no surprise, and although Jones maintained beforehand that it would not be upheld because East had made no contact with Rotich, the result was justified. A British appeal was turned down, and Rotich took bronze in 3min 52.93sec, with fellow countryman Paul Korir winning in 3:52.31 ahead of the Ukrainian Ivan Heshko, who recorded 3.52.34.

"This must be the worst possible scenario," East said after losing both the medal and £10,000 prize money. It was doubly unfortunate that the 1500m medals were presented by the Briton Sebastian Coe, now an International Association of Athletics Federations councillor. He looked a little cod-faced as he undertook his task.

East, who moved up from the back to take the lead with two laps remaining but was overhauled around the final bend, had shrugged off questions about his tactics in the immediate aftermath of the race. "I was running out of lanes," he said. "That last 100 metres I was running out of lanes. The only way to take the Kenyan was to push him into the barriers."

He added with a grin: "It was professional obstruction. I just made that up - it sounds right. I had nothing left in my legs. It was like becoming this nightmare that you are running in sand and they are taking your medal away." Unfortunately for East, the nightmare came true.

For Fenn, however, the nightmarish experience of last year's championships, where she led to the final 100 metres before seeing five others come past her, was replaced by a happy dream.

In a race where Maria Mutola, of Mozambique, secured a record sixth world indoor title, holding off the challenge of Slovenia's world indoor record-holder, Jolanda Ceplak, Fenn bided her time before moving from last place to third in the final 100 metres, clocking a personal best of 1min 59.50sec. It was beautifully judged, and hugely welcome.

Fenn has made some serious changes to her life in order to dedicate herself to the sport. Her career as a singer-songwriter, which saw her reach No 13 in the Country Charts with "Healing Touch" a couple of years ago, has been put on hold; her Arsenal season ticket has been regretfully surrendered, and since last season, when she suffered a stress fracture of her shin, she has given up being vegetarian in order to get extra vitamins.

In consultation with her coach, Ayo Falola, Fenn decided not to get near the inevitable battle between Mutola and Ceplak, concentrating on hitting set times every 100 metres.

"I couldn't get carried away like I did last year," she said, adding that her confidence had been lifted by the way she came from behind to qualify in the semi-final.

"I've done a lot of ducking and diving for a couple of years," the 29-year-old Leytonstone-born athlete said. "I think I just needed a medal for my own sanity. I've been to a lot of major championships where I've just been making up the numbers. But everybody was here today who will be there in Athens, and I've taken a few scalps. The people I've beaten today, as far as I'm concerned, will never beat me again."

The only problem Fenn faces in the short term is where to train following the closure of Crystal Palace for six months for track resurfacing. It may be good timing for London's bid for the 2012 Games, but it does not do much for the athletes with just five months left until the Olympics.

A women's 3,000m that promised something for Britain yielded nothing as the world outdoor 1500m bronze medallist, Hayley Tullett, had to drop out before the race with a stomach upset, and Jo Pavey, the newly established British record-holder, could only finish fifth in an awkwardly slow and tactical race.

The men's triple jump saw Sweden's Christian Olsson equal the world indoor record of 17.83 metres set by Aliecer Urrutia, of Cuba, in 1997, while Russia's Tatyana Lebedeva, who had produced two world records in the women's triple jump, completed a unique double by winning the long jump title with 6.98m. The Russian added another world record yesterday in the 4x400m relay and dominated the medals table with eight golds.

The long jump also saw an early departure for Sweden's world heptathlon champion, Carolina Kluft, who hurt herself while striving to regain silver position having seen Tatyana Kotova surpass her national record of 6.92 by a centimetre.

After pulling up on her jump and stepping through, the perpetually upbeat 21-year-old was carried away on a stretcher with her left thigh bandaged, waving and smiling as she went.

It was surely the most exuberant enforced departure ever witnessed in an athletic arena. The only thing missing was a hail of gladioli.