Athletics: Lewis-Francis and Holmes fail to impress before Paris

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The Independent Online

Mark Lewis-Francis was left wondering about the wisdom of his decision to make a final pre-World Championship appearance here last night after finishing last in the Weltklasse 100 metres in a disappointing time of 10.20 sec.

It probably didn't help him to reflect that his main domestic rival, Dwain Chambers, had opted out of the meeting in order to concentrate on his preparations for the big event which starts in Paris next week.

The 20-year-old was understandably less than thrilled by the turn of events in the fifth of the six scheduled IAAF Golden League events. 'It's not great,' he said. Asked if he felt he could turn things around in Paris, he replied: 'I hope so. That's all I can do - go there believing and see what happens.'

The only consolation for the former world junior champion was that neither Justin Gatlin nor John Capel, joint winners in 9.97, have qualified for the individual short sprint.

With three of the world's top 100m runners absent - Chambers, world record holder Tim Montgomery and former world record holder Maurice Greene - this race was only likely to shed a partial light upon what might transpire in the Stade de France next week. It provided a gloomy picture, nevertheless, for Lewis-Francis.

Kelly Holmes, who came into a high powered 1500 metres race in search of confidence, departed in a similar mood to the Birmingham sprinter after finishing ninth in a race where Turkey's Surreya Ayhan underlined her status as world No.1 by winning in 3min 55.60sec, the fastest time in the world for six years.

The 33-year-old Olympic 800m bronze medallist, whose season has been undermined by a calf injury, will now travel to St Moritz to prepare for the start of her World Championship race programme on August 27, but she travels as much in hope as expectation.

'I'm going to have to go away, work hard and think about my tactics,' Holmes said. 'There's no way I'm in 3.55 shape myself, so I've got to decide what's the best way for me to do things now.'

Even if Holmes is planning to concentrate on winning a medal rather than a title, she will need to show more than she managed to produce on a night when she suffered a rare defeat at the hands of a British rival in the shape of Hayley Tullett, who produced a personal best of 4.01.18 to finish fourth.

All told, it was a pretty miserable night for those relatively few Brits who decided to run the wheels around the block a final time before Paris, with Lee McConnell finishing last in a 400 metres won with ease by Mexico's Ana Guevara in 49.11sec, the fastest time in the world this year.

Tim Benjamin and James McIlroy produced personal bests of 45.27sec and 1min 45.30sec respectively in the 400m and 800m B races - but both have missed the World Championship selection deadline.

It was a far more profitable occasion, at least potentially, for Holmes's training partner, Maria Mutola, who won the 800 metres in 1min 59.95sec to leave herself just one race away from earning $1m. The Olympic champion needs to win the sixth and final Golden League race of the season, in Brussels on September 5, to become the first person to win the jackpot outright since it was first put up in 1998.

Rarely, too, can Qatar have had such a successful night at a top class athletics meeting. They produced a winner in the 3000m steeplechase in the form of Saif Saeed Shaheen, a result made less surprising with the knowledge that, less than a week ago, the winner was known as Stephen Cherono, Kenya's Commonwealth Games champion of last year.

Cherono, and his former compatriot Albert Chepkurui, who finished seventh in the 5000m under his new monicker of Ahmad Hassan Abdullah, are reputed to be earning $1,000 a month for life by way of incentive to run for their adopted country. Money talks; money walks.

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