Athletics: Medals bring pain for Bernard and Sotherton
Thursday 23 March 2006
Kelly Sotherton achieved her aim of winning a major title here yesterday, but to say she was thrilled about it would be stretching the truth. The new Commonwealth heptathlon champion gave a passable imitation of Eeyore after a second day of competition in which she felt that she had underperformed. And she was positively exuberant compared to the young man who had broken through to earn a silver in the high jump, Martyn Bernard.
The 21-year-old from Wakefield produced a season's best of 2.26 metres in finishing second to Canada's defending champion, Mark Boswell, who jumped the same height with less failures. But he finished apparently in tears, claiming that he had been unfairly hampered by the judges after a lengthy dispute which saw him timed out of taking the first two of his three attempts at 2.29m.
"I've got the silver and everybody says I should be happy but I feel cheated," he said. It fell to Jessica Ennis, who completed England's medal set on the day with bronze behind Sotherton, to express the more usual sentiments for such occasions. "I enjoyed myself so much," the 20-year-old said.
Sotherton, who spent most of the competition with her left calf strapped, did not, saying: "I've had a shite day. I've let myself and everyone else down."
Things had looked relatively good for the 29-year-old Birchfield Harrier after she had finished off the first day with a 200 metres personal best of 23.56sec which stretched her lead to 173 points. A long jump of 6.51m in her opening event yesterday consolidated her lead, but then came the event that cost her a medal at last year's World Championships, the javelin.
A discipline which was always massively helpful to her former training partner Denise Lewis as she collected Commonwealth, European and Olympic titles remains a sore trial for Sotherton. Literally so yesterday as she hurt her rib in the course of delivering the spear just 32.04m, more than eight metres shy of her not particularly good personal best of 40.81. That earned her just 515 points half what she gained from her 100m hurdles, high jump, 200m and long jump.
Although she has been receiving coaching from John Trower, the man who helped to guide Steve Backley, Sotherton has not mastered the event. "I threw 33 metres in the snow before leaving Britain. I am never going to win medals in global championships throwing like this. I may as well give everyone 200 points at the start of the day."
She attempted to conclude with a flourish in the 800m. But after setting off fast, she struggled home fourth, one place ahead of Ennis, for an overall winning total of 6396 points 98 points clear of Australia's Kylie Wheeler. "I wanted to win at least one individual event here," Sotherton said. "But in the end I felt dead."
Two years ago, in the run-up to the Athens Olympics, Sotherton was under the wing of her training partner, Denise Lewis, the defending champion, and Lewis revealed that she had a secret nickname for her "Princess". On the eve of these Games, Sotherton let it be known that she had her own affectionate nickname for the 5ft 5in Ennis "Tadpole". Ennis made it clear she did not care for the nickname, adding with a grin: "She's such a bully." But tadpoles, of course, grow up to be frogs; or even leapfrogs.
Sotherton was only half joking afterwards when she talked about the pressure that Ennis, the European junior champion, had exerted on her. "I had that little English girl snapping at my heels," she said. "She bit me quite hard." In so doing, Ennis set four personal bests in a total of 6,269, a massive improvement on her previous best of 5,910.
Asked to describe what it felt like to be a gold medallist at last, Sotherton responded: "It's better than being the Midland Counties shot putt champion, which I was a few weeks ago."
Bernard, a bronze medallist in last year's World University Games, prompted a slow handclap from the crowd as he complained that the tape marking the start of his run-up had been inadvertently removed by the spikes of his only remaining rival as the Canadian had made his first attempt on 2.29m.
"I didn't get to the bar in the right position, so I stopped," Bernard said. "My time ran out, and I asked the judges if I could take the jump again and they said no. While Mark was taking his second jump for 2.29 I asked if the bar could be raised for me to 2.31, but they pretended they didn't hear. My name came up again for a 2.29 jump and so I went to the judge again and she said, 'No, I'm not going to move it'. And I timed out again. By my third attempt I was not in a state to jump."
At one point during the dispute, Bernard consulted the team management. "Martyn was within his rights to question the judges, but the rules were clear and we have no cause for complaint," the assistant team manager, Lou Gittens, said.
The chief judge denied that Bernard had requested the bar be raised to 2.31. There was a suggestion that Bernard a student of psychology had been trying to psyche out Boswell, who admitted afterwards that he had been frustrated by the incident and at one point seemed ready to leave the arena. Ultimately, however, it was the Englishman who paid the price.
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