It took two years, 300 workmen and 2.5 million rivets to build the towering dream of Gustave Eiffel by the banks of the Seine. It took an hour and three lame puts for the man they call the Blackpool Tower to crash to earth in northern Paris yesterday. In the absence of Paula Radcliffe from the women's 10,000m final, Carl Myerscough was a golden shot for Britain on the opening day of the World Championships in the Stade de France. The 6ft 10in giant failed to make it to the final, let alone on to the top step of the medal podium.
It could hardly have been a more inauspicious start for the great British challenge in the French capital. The qualifying competition ought to have been a formality for Myerscough, the 23-year-old Lancastrian who arrived in Paris ranked second in the world and on a run of form that marked him as potentially the man to beat. Instead, the early-morning round proved to be his formal downfall. At 8.30am local time, with just a handful of aficionados dotted around the 71,000-seater arena, the pride of Blackpool and Fylde Athletics Club failed to summon sufficient power to make the cut for last night's final.
With a first round put of 19.51m and a second effort of 18.71m, the big British hope was lying 16th in the two-group table going into the final round. Having thrown a mighty 21.92m to break Geoff Capes' 23-year-old British record in the American collegiate championships in June, the 20.07m Myerscough required to claim the 12th and final qualifying place was still well within his compass. The pressure, however, took its toll.
Spinning around the throwing circle with too much vigour, Myerscough overbalanced as he launched the 16lb canonball and stepped beyond the bounds of the white board. His distance went unmeasured, a no-throw was logged on his record, and the World Championships were over for him. In the final reckoning, the world number two was ranked 20th.
Myerscough was a picture of devastation as he left the arena, shaking his head and declining all requests to share his thoughts. His mood was no less funereal outside the stadium. Asked if he knew what had gone wrong for him, he kept his gaze fixed on the ground and muttered, "No." It would hardly have consoled him when the final was later won with a putt of 21.69m a third-of-a-metre short of his British record by Andrey Mikhnevich, a Belarussian who returned from a drugs ban just 19 days ago. The fact that Myerscough himself once failed a drugs test, back in his Millfield schooldays in 1999, means he is unlikely to get a shot a redemption in Athens next year. The British Olympic Association last month turned down his appeal to lift the automatic bar from selection they impose on athletes with doping records.
At least Denise Lewis has already realised her Olympic dream. After a pregnant pause for the birth of her daughter, the Sydney heptathlon winner returned to the major championship arena yesterday. She made a promising start, too, clocking 13.37sec in the 100m hurdles to place fourth in the overall standings after the first of the seven events. A failure at 1.67m in the high jump dropped the Birchfield Harrier down to 17th, but a 15.25m shot put hauled her back up to seventh and a 24.55sec run in the 200m kept her there at the end of the first day.
The battle for gold was always likely to be fought between the burgeoning young Swede Carolina Kluft and the 1999 champion Eunice Barber of France. Thus it proved, though by the end of the opening day it had become a decidedly one-sided battle. The 20-year-old Kluft virtually had the gold in the bag, having reeled off a quartet of personal bests 13.18sec in the 100m hurdles, 1.94m in the high jump, 14.19m in the shot put and a stunning 22.98sec in the 200m. It put her clear of Barber by 194 points and gilded her rapidly burgeoning reputation as the bright new thing of world athletics.
A history student from Boras, the home town of Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander, Kluft only left the junior ranks last year but already she has European and world indoor titles to her name as a senior, and has been voted Swede of the Year all without losing her infectious vivacity or her healthy perspective on her place in the grand scheme of things. "I don't feel like I'm something special," she said. "I'm just a little girl in the big world, just as small as everybody else." With a giant world-beating talent, though, it would seem.
No female athlete has shown a greater talent since the turn of the millennium than Radcliffe. The outcome of the 10,000m final, though, showed great judgement on her part in declining to put herself on the line at less than peak fitness. In the absence of the Briton, Berhane Adere of Ethiopia produced a blistering sprint finish to win in 30min 4.18sec, a time that only Radcliffe and Wang Junxia, the world record holder, have ever bettered.
There was a world record in the opening event yesterday, Jefferson Perez winning the 20km walk in 1hr 17min 21sec. It remains to be seen whether he his fellow Ecuadorians will reward him with a prize similar to that which followed his Olympic win in Atlanta seven years ago: a lifetime supply of yoghurt.Reuse content