Athletics: Magnificent seven for Britain after men's relay silver

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The Independent Online

Britain's final medal tally at the European Indoor Championships here reached seven - equalling their best showing - after the concluding day witnessed disorderly scenes following a collision that ruined the home nation's chances in the men's 400 metre relay.

Britain's final medal tally at the European Indoor Championships here reached seven - equalling their best showing - after the concluding day witnessed disorderly scenes following a collision that ruined the home nation's chances in the men's 400 metre relay.

In the chaotic aftermath of the incident, Britain's inexperienced team secured third place, and was promoted to silver following the disqualification of Poland, whose runner had tried to force his way between the leaders, Spain, and the eventual winners, France, just before the final handover.

No one expected such a result from the young British quartet of Dale Garland, Daniel Cossins, Richard Davenport and Gareth Warburton, the latter moving clear of his Russian rival over the final 20 metres. In contrast, Chris Lambert's silver in the 200m after his first indoor season came as no surprise given his improving form here, and a further bronze was provided by the women's 400m relay team of Mel Purkiss, Donna Fraser, Catherine Murphy and Lee McConnell.

Taking into account Kelly Sotherton's pentathlon silver on the opening day, and Saturday's haul of silver in the 3,000m through John Mayock and gold and silver in the 60m through Jason Gardener and Mark Lewis-Francis respectively, it represented a highly satisfactory result for the newly appointed performance director, Dave Collins. After an opening session which saw a sequence of disappointing failures, Britain's overall performance rose to match that at the last version of these Championships in Vienna.

Although Yelena Isinbayeva's world indoor pole vault record of 4.90m offered the organisers a pleasing finale to their event, those promoting Madrid's bid for the 2012 Olympics will have been less than thrilled by the crowd's volatile reaction to seeing their men's relay team come to grief.

As the winning French quartet celebrated they were pelted with green foam "clappers" by a section of Spanish supporters high above them and harangued by a number of spectators at trackside.

The embarrassment for the hosts followed the previous day's mistake in the long jump officiating which meant Germany's Bianca Kappler had to return for just one more effort yesterday, eventually being ranked joint third with her mark of 6.53, even though it was six centimetres less than the competitor with whom she shared bronze, Adina Anton of Romania. Farcical.

Lambert, whose Olympic relay chances were ruined by an injury that forced him to watch the triumph from the stands, got a little bit of payback here, finishing in 20.69sec behind the 20.53sec run by Thomas Unger of Germany.

"It has been an experiment, a great experiment," said the laid-back Harvard politics graduate, who was taking his floral presentation back with him to Lewisham as a belated Mother's Day gift. "It's given me great confidence for the coming season.

"This is my first major senior medal, and more than anything I wanted to prove I could perform in a major final. If you get a chance in athletics, you've got to take it. I know all about that from Athens." Lambert's run confirmed a good weekend for British sprinters. Gardener said after his 60m victory in a season's best of 6.55sec that this would almost certainly be his last indoor championships, as the Commonwealth Games take place in Melbourne early next year.

"This is the most special win out of the three for me," he said. "It would have been so easy for me not to have come after having a few sloppy races this season, but I wanted to create a little bit of history here." Lewis-Francis, timed at 6.59sec, was also cock-a-hoop at getting a medal in what was only his fourth race of the indoor season. "This is a message to all my critics that I am back," he said.

The Britons' mental strength came to bear in the warm-up area, where the race favourite, Ronald Pognon of France, who lowered Gardener's European record to 6.45sec last month, appeared nervous. "I let him know he was being watched,' said Gardener. Job, effectively, done.

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