Julian Golding provided a weekend of only sporadic interest with a breathless conclusion here yesterday as he returned from three years of illness, injury and angst to win the showcase event of the Norwich Union AAA Championships and World Championship trials, the 200 metres.
The 28-year-old Londoner offered the Alexander Stadium a reminder of the graceful technique which brought him the Commonwealth title five years ago to finish clear in 20.37sec, with Christian Malcolm taking second place in 20.39. Darren Campbell, second behind Dwain Chambers in the previous day's 100 metres, almost certainly secured the third place for next month's World Championships in Paris as he finished in 20.49, 0.01sec ahead of the man who won the world indoor title a couple of miles down the road four months ago, Marlon Devonish.
Despite the fact that Chambers had chosen earlier in the day not to double up, the race still had a field that contrasted markedly with many that preceded it in terms of its depth of quality.
Almost as surprising as Golding's victory was the failure of Chris Lambert, who had won the European under-23 title in 20.34 the previous weekend, to do any better than fifth in 20.81. Afterwards he blamed having too many races too close together.
The selectors, who will announce their main World Championship team tomorrow, may well spend some time debating on whether to allow Campbell his wish of competing at both sprint events in Paris. The 29-year-old Olympic silver medallist is in no doubt about the decision they should make. "They have got to pick me in both events now," he said. "I showed I could double up successfully at the Sydney Olympics."
Devonish begs to differ, however, having beaten Campbell in Gateshead earlier this month.
Golding's performance came just over a year after he had been on the brink of quitting athletics after only managing to run 22.28 at a meeting in Spain. "I was close to walking away from the sport," he said. "I was exasperated. I couldn't take any more. But my former coach, Mike McFarlane, persuaded me that I had too much talent to give up."
As a Christian - and one who regularly plays keyboards at his Pentecostal Church in Cricklewood - Golding said he was buoyed up by his faith during what he describes as "three tortuous years". Despite his belief, however, he frequently found himself playing songs in the key of pain. After breaking through to win the 1998 Commonwealth title in a personal best of 20.18, and reaching the following year's World Championship final in Seville, his career juddered to a halt.
"In 2000 I had a virus which left me with a low blood count and made constantly lacking in energy," he said. "The following year I had three haemorrhages in my groin. And last year I had a badly bruised heel which stopped me training until April, so I wasn't fit at all.
"This is the first time in three years I've had an injury-free season - apart from pulling my hamstring at this year's AAA indoors."
One potential dilemma for the selectors was resolved earlier in the day when Chambers, an impressive winner of the previous day's shorter sprint in 10.08 despite poor conditions, chose not to contest the longer sprint.
According to those in his camp, he woke up feeling less than 100 per cent fit and decided not to risk any further activity, electing to watch yesterday's proceedings from the stands.
Chambers's attitude to doubling up at the World Championships was clearly ambivalent in the wake of a victory which underlined his genuine contention for the world title. Asked about his approach to the 200 metres event in the wake of his 100m win, he replied: "For me, it's fun." Alongside him, Campbell responded: "For me, it's pain."
Fun and pain were fully evident in the 400m final, where Daniel Caines's win in 45.56 was expected, but the identity of the runner-up, Duaine Ladejo, was a surprise. The 1994 European champion, who has returned to the event after trying out the decathlon and the 400m hurdles, now has two weeks to get the qualifying standard of 45.55, as has the third-placed Ian Mackie, Scotland's former 100m runner.
But the experience was purgatory for Ladejo's successor as European champion, Iwan Thomas, whose attempted comeback after a spell of injury that matched Golding's ended in disappointment as he finished a heavy-legged last in 47.13.
Abi Oyepitan, a former World Student Games 100m silver medallist who recently moved up events, upset the 200m favourite Joice Maduaka to win in 22.95. She thus became the only British athlete to achieve a World Championship A qualifying time for the first time this weekend.
The five £5,000 bonuses on offer to outstanding performers this weekend went to Golding - who is currently without any sponsorship or Lottery support - Malcolm, Chambers, Yamile Aldama, who equalled the British all-comers' record in the triple jump with 14.98m, and Carl Myerscough, who produced a Championship record of 21.55, surpassing a mark which had stood to Al Feuerbach of the United States since his performance at Crystal Palace in 1974.
Chris Rawlinson got over his fit of pique of the previous day when he had threatened not to turn up for the 400m hurdles final after being disqualified and reinstated from his heat for failing to clear a hurdle correctly. He won in 49.24, although Matt Douglas gave him a harder race than he might have expected.
But the overall weakness of an event missing large numbers of major athletes - some with genuine injuries, some not - was highlighted by a women's 5,000m which produced just two finishers.
Hayley Yelling won in 15min 32.30sec, having lapped Jo Kelsey, a distant second in 17:32.22. The international runner Kathy Butler dropped out midway through.
As one observer remarked: "'It's just like a midweek meeting at Wincanton."