It remains to be seen whether Britain's track and field athletes can pick up where Britain's Winter Olympians left off in Salt Lake City. There was only one set of medals to be picked up on the opening day of the European Indoor Championships in the Ferry Dusika Hallenstadion yesterday, and there was no Briton in the women's pentathlon. There was, however, the promise of precious metal to come, most intriguingly, from Daniel Caines.
The world indoor 400 metres champion was picked almost as an afterthought as Britain's third man for the 200m in Vienna – on the strength of his halfway split time en route to victory at his specialist distance in the Norwich Union Grand Prix meeting in Birmingham two weeks ago. After winning his heat in a personal best time of 20.67sec yesterday morning, though, the 22-year-old Birchfield Harrier ran like a man inspired in the semi-finals last night. He qualified for today's final with the second-fastest time, clocking 20.62sec as runner-up to Marcin Urbas, of the Ukraine, in the first of the three semis.
Urbas was the fastest qualifier, with a national record of 20.55sec, and Christian Malcolm, the defending champion and top-ranked contender going into the championships, third fastest. Malcolm won the third semi-final in 20.65sec, but his Cardiff club-mate and training partner, Doug Turner, failed to make the cut for the final after struggling home third in the second race, in 20.84sec.
The prospect of finishing on the 200m medal podium, as a dabbling 400m man, had Caines in a state of shock. "I'd probably faint," he exclaimed. "I'm still in shock. I didn't expect to come here and run so quick." After time for reflection, when asked again if he thought he could win a medal, Caines added: "I do. If you had asked me yesterday I would have said 'no', but now I think I can. Don't ask me which colour though."
A medal of any colour would be a bonus for the Solihull man, who chose not to contest his specialist event because he feared he was not fit enough to race three rounds in three days at the distance. He only returned to competitive action last month after recovering from a stress fracture.
Colin Jackson returned to international championship competition with the fastest time in the heats of the 60m hurdles yesterday: 7.55sec. Not that the sprint hurdling perfectionist was happy with his performance. "I made a few technical errors," he said. "I'll sort it out for tomorrow." Barring any serious technical errors, Jackson should emerge from the semi-finals and final today with his 12th individual gold medal at international championships.
Ashia Hansen looks a bright medal prospect too, after qualifying for today's triple jump final with 14.30m, the second best mark of the preliminary round yesterday – behind the 14.42m recorded by Tereza Maranova, the Bulgarian Olympic champion.
"I couldn't sleep last night," Hansen revealed, before beating a hasty retreat to her hotel room. "It always happens to me at major championships. I just sit up reading and listening to my Walkman and grab some sleep during the day."
Nick Buckfield declined to blame the early morning start for his premature exit from the pole vault at the qualifying stage. The Crawley athlete finished joint 14th after clearing only 5.40m, 0.41m short of the British record he set three weeks ago.
"I just didn't perform when it counted," he said. "I've underachieved big time."
It was no consolation to Buckfield that he remained in pole position in the European rankings and there was no consolation either for Janine Whitlock, the British record-breaking star of the Norwich Union Grand Prix meeting. She finished 15th with a best height of 4.20m in the women's pole vault qualifying competition.
Catherine Murphy, though, reached the final of the women's 400m as the third fastest qualifier, placing second in her semi-final in 51.95sec. With a red dragon tattoo on her right arm, it was a fitting St David's Day celebration run by the 26-year-old Welshwoman.