Twelve months ago Dwain Chambers sat in the bowels of the Stade Charlety in Paris, shaking his head and coming to terms with the bitter disappointment of losing out on the world No 1 spot at 100m to Tim Montgomery. Running in the IAAF Grand Prix Final, the young Londoner had equalled Linford Christie's European record, clocking 9.87sec in the wake of Montgomery's world record-breaking 9.78sec run. That, however, was little consolation in the face of a comprehensive defeat to his American rival.
Yesterday there was no consolation of any description as Chambers continued his season of unfulfilled ambition by finishing out of the frame in the 100m in the inaugural IAAF World Athletics Finals, the two-day end-of-season successor to the old Grand Prix Final. At the halfway stage of the race in the Stade Louis II the Belgrave Harrier was vying for the lead with Kim Collins, but the European champion and the newly crowned world champion both faded as the finish line approached. Chambers was fourth in 10.10sec and Collins sixth in 10.13sec as Bernard Williams stole through in the outside lane to snatch victory from his fellow American John Capel, clocking 10.04sec.
It seemed fitting in one respect that such a bizarre season for the world's speed merchants should reach its final stride - ahead of next Saturday's Moscow Challenge race - with Williams, a part-time stand-up comedian, in the vanguard. There was so much promise for the men's 100m this year, after the world record in Paris last September, but Montgomery has failed to find his form, Maurice Greene has ground to a relative halt, Chambers has taken a backwards step and nobody - not even Collins, who won the world title by the thickness of his skin-tight suit in the Stade de France last month - has managed to stamp a definitive mark of authority on the event.
Chambers was consoled by Williams as he sat slumped in a chair in the stadium tunnel, having rushed past the media at trackside too upset to pass comment. He was in no mood for a joke, though, from the man who performs in his other profession under the name "Hollywood Williams". "I'm fed up, pissed off, frustrated," Chambers said. "I'm getting into races and it's like, 'Oh no, here we go again.' I'm down, but I'm telling myself, 'That's what makes a champion.' You've got to accept defeat and rise to the challenge." With the exception of his semi-final at the World Championships in the Stade de France last month, Chambers has been obliged to accept defeat in every race he has run on foreign soil this year. He has also failed to break 10 seconds. As to the reason why, he was left shaking his head yesterday. "I just don't know," he said.
According to Michael Johnson, Chambers has become too muscle-bound. "There's a lot of bulk there and it's just not necessary," the former superman of the track observed after watching the big British hope finish fourth in the 100m final in the Stade de France. "Tell Michael Johnson he can kiss my ass," Chambers retorted yesterday. "And Roger Black. He said it too. Everyone has their views, but some people only come out with negative stuff. I've still got a lot to learn. I know that. But success doesn't happen overnight. My time will come."
At 25, Chambers certainly has time on his side. Hayley Tullett is his senior by five years and only now is the Swansea Harrier hitting her peak. The rush to conduct the British post-mortem on the final day of the World Championships rather sadly obscured her brilliant bronze-medal run in the 1500m. It broke her through to global élite level - a tribute both to herself and to her coach, Mark Rowland, the 1988 Olympic steeplechase bronze medallist. Tullett finished a weary 12th in Brussels nine days ago but yesterday regained her composure, and her form, taking third place behind the front-running Turk, Sureyya Ayhan, and the fast-finishing Kenyan Jackline Maranga in 4min 1.60sec - with her fellow Briton Jo Pavey fourth in 4:01.79.
"To be honest, it's only this week that it's started to sink in," Tullett confessed. "I felt tired and flat after the championships. I really didn't know how to react to getting a medal. Had I been expecting one, I might have been better prepared." What has made Tullett's tale of the unexpected all the more meritorious is the fact that she works for a living away from the track, as head of girls' games at Hoe Bridge prep school in Woking. Her pupils have reason to be proud of her, and so does British athletics.
Sadly, there was little else to cheer from a domestic viewpoint yesterday, although Yamile Aldama, the Cuban native who competes for Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers finished second in the triple jump with 14.99m. There was little for Kelli White to cheer either. Although the American won the 200m in 22.31sec, she will have to run 10.77sec in the 100m today - well inside her best - to overtake the South African high jumper Hestrie Cloete in the points table that will determine the International Association of Athletics Federation's female athlete of the year. As the American sprinter is facing a doping ban from the IAAF, pending the consideration of her case by the US Anti-Doping Agency, her failure to beat the clock would spare the world governing body considerable embarrassment.Reuse content