Athletics: Lewis-Francis set for Poland after change of heart

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The Independent Online

After winning here a year ago, Mark Lewis-Francis looked ahead to the European Cup, which comes up in Bydgozcz next weekend and vowed he would never, ever go back to the Polish venue where he had won the world youth title in 1999.

After winning here a year ago, Mark Lewis-Francis looked ahead to the European Cup, which comes up in Bydgozcz next weekend and vowed he would never, ever go back to the Polish venue where he had won the world youth title in 1999.

But the 21-year-old's 100 metres win here yesterday means he will almost certainly have to reconsider his stance when the European Cup selection is completed today. Asked whether he would accept a place in Poland if offered, he replied: "Of course. I would never turn down a Great Britain spot.

"I'm a lot more confident than I was last season. If I'd run like that last year I wouldn't have had the confidence to come and run here like I did today."

While Lewis-Francis was announcing his prodigious early-season form, the two other most likely contenders for the European Cup 100m place were performing less sparklingly in Erfurt. Jason Gardener, who underwent a hernia operation within a week of winning the world indoor 60m title in Budapest three months ago, finished third at the German venue in 10.29sec, while Darren Campbell, who opened his season with a 10.28 in Mexico last month, failed to reach the final, clocking 10.32.

Lewis-Francis rounded off his afternoon at the Bedford International Games by anchoring a relay team to victory in 39.24, which strengthened their claims for an Olympic place at Athens two months from now.

Following the two-year doping ban which was imposed on Dwain Chambers in February, the relay performances in which he was involved last year - culminating in a silver-medal finish at the World Championships - were annulled. With the times that were left, Britain dropped from second to 15th in the international table, and with only the top 16 qualifying for the Olympics, their place in Athens looked less than secure.

Yesterday's time of 39.24sec by a quartet that also featured Christian Malcolm, Chris Lambert and Julian Golding, lifted Britain by one place. With further opportunities coming up at Bydgozcz, and then Gateshead on 27 June, Britain should be able to make their place in the Athens secure.

Lewis-Francis was not the only athlete to make hay while the sun shone here. Kelly Sotherton, who moved up to second place in this year's world heptathlon rankings following last month's performance in Gotzis, set personal bests in the 200m with 23.57sec, and 13.29sec in the 100m hurdles.

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