Athletics: Lyne following the Coe road towards the world's stage
Same school, same club, same distance, same track - omens smile on an emerging talent
It was at Gateshead International Stadium, the venue for this afternoon's Norwich Union British Grand Prix, that the most celebrated member of Hallam-shire Harriers first made a middle-distance name for himself. Running in the mile in the Rediffusion Games in August 1976, he stole a 40-metre lead on John Walker in the Tyneside wind before the newly crowned Olympic 1500m champion reeled him in on the final lap.
In his hotel room that night, Walker wrote a letter to Arch Jelley, his coach back home in New Zealand, saying, "I nearly got beaten by a young guy and I don't even know who he is - somebody by the name of Sebastian Coe."
On the international track- and-field circuit, Becky Lyne is not quite as unknown a quantity as the 19-year-old Coe was when he lined up at Gateshead 30 years ago. In terms of general public recognition, though, the 23-year-old Hallamshire Harrier has yet to make an impact. Her two world-class runs on the European circuit in the past fortnight have both been achieved without the oxygen of TV coverage back home.
Still, the Sunday Grandstand cameras will be in place this afternoon when Lyne attempts to maintain the brilliant 800m form that took her to victory in the Fanny Blankers-Koen Games at Hengelo, Holland, two weeks ago and to an equally eye-catching runner-up spot in the opening Golden League meeting of the summer at the Bislett Games in Oslo nine days ago.
If Coe paved the way for his subsequent international successes with his performances at the tail end of the 1976 season, the Hallamshire club's latest middle-distance talent is already in the throes of breaking through - or so it would seem. In Hengelo, Lyne came within a whisker of breaking the two-minute barrier, improving her lifetime best from 2min 01.26sec to 2:00.04. In Oslo, she ran a superbly judged race, finishing strongly to split the 800m gold and silver medallists from the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in March: Janeth Jepkosgei of Kenya and Kenia Sinclair of Jamaica.
It was the highest placing by a British woman in a Golden League event since Kelly Holmes, fresh from her Olympic double in Athens, was a 1500m runner-up to Tatyana Tomashova of Russia in Berlin in September 2004. "Oh, good company then," Lyne says, basking in the evening sunshine in the back garden of the house she shares with her boyfriend, Steve Vernon, and Pete Riley (third and first in the English cross-country champion-ships) at Mellor, on the climb towards the Peak District from Stockport. "It still feels a bit weird... 'I came second in a Golden League'. But I'm not going to get carried away or think that I've arrived, because I've not broken two minutes. There are several British girls within fractions of a second of me, and Susan Scott has run a lot faster. I'd be foolish to think that I'm there."
Like Coe, Lyne was raised in Sheffield and studied at Loughborough University. "I went to the same school in Sheffield, Tapton School," she says. "I've mentioned it when I've met him but I've only talked to him on a couple of occasions. I don't know if he would recognise me."
In addition to her modesty, the softly spoken Lyne has a level head on her shoulders, which can only help her get to where she wants to be this summer: the European Championships in Gothenburg in August. Only three places are available in the British team and - with Scott leading the rankings with the 1:59.02 she clocked for fourth place in the Commonwealth final, and three others already inside the qualifying standards - the woman of the moment in British athletics is wise to keep her eye on the ball of the trials meeting in Manchester next month. None the less, another impressive run today, with Jep-kosgei among her rivals, would add to Lyne's growing assurance on the track, and also give her the chance to use her degree in Spanish at the European Cup in Malaga later this month.
"It looks like I've made a sudden jump but it's been a gradual progression, really," she says. "I ran 2:01 consistently in 2004 and I felt I could have broken two minutes last summer until I got injured."
A young veteran of the 2002 Commonwealth Games and also the European Under-23 champion in her event in 2003, Lyne was hampered by injury throughout last winter, but after a somewhat peripatetic existence (at Loughborough, at Butler University in Indianapolis, and back home in Sheffield) she has benefited from a steady running life in the Stockport area.
Supported by Lottery funding and the Government's Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme, she fits her training around a part-time job with a clothing firm and coaching athletics to primary school children one day a week.
Joining the training group guided by Vernon's long-term coach, Dave Turnbull, has also helped, as has the backing of the noted athletes' agent Nic Bideau. "Nic has got me into the big races and that has made a massive difference," she acknowledges. Perhaps, though, Lyne was always destined to swim with the big fish of the track-and-field world.
"When I first started paying attention to athletics, I had some goldfish that I would name after all the athletes," she volunteers, when asked about the sporting idols of her youth. "I had one called Liz McColgan. One called Linford Christie. Sally Gunnell. Kelly Holmes. Those were the main ones."
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