The biggest athletics showdown at Gateshead since Linford Christie met Carl Lewis for a £120,000 prize 13 years ago has fallen apart, with Justin Gatlin pulling out of his projected 100 metres race against the joint world record-holder Asafa Powell.
Gatlin's manager, Renaldo Nehemiah, maintained on the eve of yesterday's Prefontaine Classic meeting in Eugene, Oregon, that his client never had a contract to race against Powell at the meeting on 11 June. "It's officially off," said the former world high hurdles record holder.
Gateshead promoter Ian Stewart, who had the news confirmed by Nehemiah before watching the action in Eugene, was bitterly disappointed, having announced earlier this year that Gatlin would run at the three main British meetings in Gateshead, London (28 July) and Birmingham (19-20 August).
"They [Nehemiah] said it is too cold, it is too early, they are not coming," Stewart commented. "Clearly we are not happy and we feel there was a break in trust there. We have a contract, it's a three-meet contract and he is in breach of the contract." Nehemiah's statement nevertheless confirmed rumblings on the athletics scene that the meeting between the two sprinters would not take place until later in the season.
That speculation heightened when Gatlin ran 9.76sec at the Doha meeting on 12 May, a time that was officially amended to 9.77, equalling the mark Powell set in Athens last year. Suddenly Gateshead had the ideal race in prospect - but despite high excitement in British athletics circles, there was a nagging sense that it was too good to be true and that the rivals - both thought to be receiving six-figure sums for their Gateshead runs - would seek a meeting at a warmer, and possibly even more lucrative, venue.
"Justin's contract gave him the option of running the 100 or 200 metres," said Nehemiah, who added that Stewart had mistakenly assumed Gatlin would agree to race Powell there after the American had told him last month he would race "anyone, anytime, anywhere". Nehemiah said Stewart then signed a contract with Powell to run a 100m, adding "he never had a contract with me for that. If he [Stewart] had called me after he had talked to Justin and said he would like to invite Powell, I would have said that it was not going to happen." Gatlin said he would be excited to race Powell, but added: "Obviously this is not the right time."
Marion Jones indicated last night that she still has ambition on the track despite the trauma of her embroilment in the doping scandal centring on the BALCO lab. The 30-year-old former Olympic champion, whose partner Tim Montgomery was banned for doping offences, won the 100m at the FBK-Games in Hengelo in 11.16sec.
The time was a lot slower than her best, but a lot faster than the rest of the field could handle, with Emma Ania, a member of England's 4x100m silver medallists at the Commonwealth Games, coming closest with 11.59sec.
There was only one British victory at the meeting and that came unexpectedly from former European Under-23 champion Rebecca Lyne, winner of the 800m in a personal best of two minutes 0.04sec.
Natasha Danvers-Smith took second place in the 400m hurdles, in a time of 56.29sec, behind World Championship silver medallist Lashinda Demus who won in 54.70sec.
Christian Malcolm finished third in the men's 100m, clocking 10.37sec in a race won by Nigeria's Olusoji Fasuba in 10.33sec. But Darren Campbell was off the pace, placing fifth in 10.46sec.