Athletics: Lyne of succession puts Becky in golden glow

Britain's leading middle-distance runner heads for the world championships without fear - thanks to heeding the lessons of her predecessors
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The Independent Online

Becky Lyne has come a long way in the last 12 months: from 26th on the all-time ranking list of British women's 800m runners to third. That the Hallamshire Harrier intends to maintain her forward momentum can perhaps be gleaned from the direction she chose to take at the end of a gruelling track season in which she smashed through the two-minutes barrier, won a bronze medal at the European Championships in Gothenburg, and established herself among the world elite of women's middle distance running.

Instead of soothing her tired limbs on some Mediterranean beach, she headed north by north west from her Stockport home to the remote, windswept beauty of the Outer Hebrides and the home of Kirsty Wade, one of the two women ahead of Lyne on the UK all-time list.

A winner of three Commonwealth gold medals, Wade, now 44, runs a guesthouse with her husband and former coach, Tony, overlooking Uig Sands on the Isle of Lewis. The 1min 57.42sec she clocked behind the Czechoslovak hulk Jarmila Kratochvilova at the Ulster Games in 1985 stood for 10 years as a British record and ranks her second in the pantheon of female British two-lap runners - behind Dame Kelly Holmes and the current record figures of 1:56.38.

"Kirsty was really helpful, and Tony too," Lyne says, over early-afternoon tea in her kitchen, round the corner from Edgeley Park, home of Charlie Hodgson, Jason Robinson and the Sale Sharks. "There was a two-pronged reason for me to go there. I wanted to have a little bit of a break at the end of the season - it's beautiful where they live - but I also wanted to see if I could get a bit of an insight into Kirsty's training and pick up any advice she could give me.

"She gave me a big pile of training diaries and it was a real eye-opener to see how hard she trained. It's been a bit of a motivation for me. I remember my old coach, Gordon Surtees, saying that he'd never seen anyone train as hard in a session as Kirsty and Paula Radcliffe."

Not that Lyne has had an easy ride getting to No 3 on the UK all-time list, courtesy of the 1:58.20 she recorded as runner-up to the Commonwealth champion Janeth Jepkosgei of Kenya in the Norwich Union British Grand Prix at Gateshead in June. Far from it, in fact.

Prior to her 2006 summer breakthrough, she suffered the crushing disappointment of failing to survive beyond the heats in her first major championship, the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, and - after bouncing back to win the European Under-23 title in 2003 - she endured a catalogue of injury setbacks as she strove to establish herself in the senior ranks.

At this time last year she was struggling to overcome yet another injury, and also the disappointment of being overlooked for the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

Now, at 24, the native Sheffielder has won a major championship medal and made a name for herself on the international stage - so much so that she was named Britain's female athlete of the year by the British Athletics Writers' Association, succeeding the pregnant Radcliffe and joining a list of winners that also includes Mary Rand, Lillian Board, Zola Budd, Denise Lewis and Holmes.

The remarkable thing about Lyne's emergence in 2006 is that she achieved it despite an injury-troubled start to the year, despite switching coaches on the eve of the track season - from Surtees to Dave Turnbull, who also guides her partner, the cross country international Steve Vernon - and despite several changes in location after graduating from Loughborough University.

With the benefit of a more settled background this winter - and a spell of warm-weather training in Melbourne in the new year - further progress would seem likely in 2007, the track and field focal point of which will be the World Championships in Osaka in August.

Lyne consistently placed in the top-three on the European circuit last summer and showed admirable resilience to take bronze behind the Russians Olga Kotlyarova and Svetlana Klyuka in the European Championship final - despite losing ground when she was badly bumped at the head of the home straight.

"I'm very aware of who the main contenders will be in Osaka," she says. "And, having got so close to them and having beaten a few of them as well, there's no one for me to be scared of. I just really hope that I can get into the same sort of shape, or better, next season.

"I'm not taking anything for granted, though. I can't forget about all the British girls who will be fighting it out for places on the team."

Lyne has not forgotten the faded poster she used to gaze at in the dinner hall at Tapton School in Sheffield. It was signed by Sebastian Coe, a one-time Tapton pupil in whose footsteps she was destined to follow. "It did mean something to me at the time," she says. "I knew a fair amount about him. I was aware of his achievements and the significance of him."

Lyne, in fact, has gone out of her way to familiarise herself with the achievements of those who have gone before her. As well as trekking up to the Hebrides to catch up with Wade, she has pored over the biography of Board, jointly dedicating her bronze medal in Gothenburg to her new-born nephew, Finley, and, touchingly, to the memory of the woman cruelly cut down by cancer at the age of 22 the year after she won the 800m title at the European Championships in 1969.

"I thought if I did get a medal it would be nice to mention that, because she was an amazing athlete, well ahead of her time," Lyne reflects. "It was just quite tragic, and I think a lot of girls nowadays, in my era, have not actually heard of her. It would be a shame to let that be the case and let her memory just fade away."

Such sensitivity says a lot about Lyne's true character. The same can be said of the fact that the world knows that she happens to be sitting on two missed drug tests. The story came to light before she had even left Gothenburg in August, when a journalist asked her to comment on the case of Christine Ohuruogu, who has been banned for a year for missing three tests. Lyne volunteered the information that she herself had missed two.

"I wanted to show my support for Christine, knowing how easy it is to miss tests," she says. "When I left university, I was living at home in Sheffield, living with Steve's parents - I was all over the place. Now that I've missed the two tests I'm totally paranoid about missing a third. I'm in touch with the testing people at least three, four times a week, letting them know of any changes to where I'm going to be."

Just in case she forgets today, there is a reminder pinned next to the list of shopping on the kitchen notice-board. "Anti-doping", it says, underlined in felt-tipped pen.