Athletics: Pickering's pace offers inside track to future

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The Independent Online

It has taken a couple of years to revamp Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, but to judge by the eager youngsters who teemed within its Victorian splendour on Saturday afternoon the reorganisation has been worthwhile. Across the road at Kelvin Hall, Craig Pickering, whose sprinting technique has been refashioned by Malcolm Arnold since the autumn of 2005, offered the Norwich Union International its own shock of the new.

The 20-year-old sports science student from Bath University, added to the 60 metres as a guest after his 6.56sec the previous Saturday put him top of this year's world rankings, destroyed a field including two of his main domestic rivals as he lowered his best time to 6.55sec.

Those in Pickering's wake included his 31-year-old training partner, Jason Gardener, three times the European indoor champion, and the former world junior champion Mark Lewis-Francis. According to Arnold, Gardener, who had won his previous six races here, was "shell-shocked" by the defeat, although he acknowledged it with customary grace.

It seemed as if a metaphorical baton had been passed from the 2004 Olympic relay champion to the strapping, serious young man who took the European junior 100m title two years ago. But Gardener, who has returned from a serious back injury in the last four months, will doubtless challenge that assumption as he works to defend his European indoor title in Birmingham from 2 to 4 March.

What is clear is that Pickering has emerged as a genuine new sprinting talent, with time on his side to make an impact at the next and the next but one Olympics. Not that he is making rash predictions.

In Glasgow, Pickering did his best not to look further ahead than this Saturday's race in Stuttgart. Asked, however, if he had seen Gardener's Olympic medal, he said: "I have. He brought it into training and it was amazing. I want to try and get one of them."

Pickering added that he had a lot of work still to do before he was "the finished article", a sentiment that chimed with the view of his coach, who delivered a characteristically scathing assessment of Britain's coaching set-up.

"Coaching has taken a big hit in the last eight to nine years because the development of coaches within the regime has stuttered and stumbled," said Arnold, who was briefly UK Athletics' performance director in the mid-1990s. "We've had lots of brilliant juniors, but sadly they've not produced at senior level.

"Look at Dwain Chambers and the way he went. Look at Mark Lewis-Francis and the way he's going. Look at Christian Malcolm and various others. It's very sad that we can't convert them. It's because they don't work correctly and they don't work hard enough."

Gardener said of Pickering: "He takes his sport very seriously and you won't find the likes of Craig Pickering out in pubs or clubs, or living the wild life."

Earlier in the week, asked about the social life in Bath, Pickering responded with a faint smile: "I wouldn't know. If you've got to train at 9.30, you're in bed by 11."

If attitude, environment and influence have anything to do with it, Pickering can make Britain proud over the next decade.

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