Athletics: Rawlinson looking for consistent form on the world stage

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The Independent Online

When Chris Rawlinson is good, as he demonstrated once again here in Florence on Saturday, he is very good. As the 400m hurdler crossed the line to win the opening track event of the men's European Cup, the hair streaked blonde, tanned and tattooed, exulted in a victory which he marked with an "up yours'' thrust of his arm after glancing back at his labouring rivals, the 31-year-old Rotherham runner was the very picture of an athlete at the top of his game.

The question that hung in the air, however, concerned timing. Rawlinson has made an uncomfortable habit of starting seasons with a bang and ending them with a whimper, most painfully at the Sydney Olympics, where his competitive year came to an end somewhere between the semi-finals and the final.

Despite having a good go at sabotaging last season for himself, when he suffered food poisoning after eating a chicken meal he had left sweltering in the back of his car for two days during the AAA trials in Birmingham, he recovered to take the Commonwealth title.

It was a well-merited and long-awaited victory for a man who had emerged into the top flight of his event with a startling win in the pre-race at Zurich in 1999, when he recorded the time which still stands as his personal best, 48.14secs, and which has only been bettered by two other Britons - David Hemery and Kriss Akabusi.

Had he not decided to milk his moment of triumph, Rawlinson - who had the additional handicap of running in lane one - could have bettered that mark this weekend. He gave that possibility up - but it may be that his exuberance in the closing stages will make more of a mark in the public consciousness than mere figures, and that would clearly be something he would welcome.

"I need a model in the World Championships this year,'' he said. "The Commonwealth Games were brilliant - it was great getting up on to the podium in front of that home crowd. But it's soon forgotten - not by me, but by the public. I need something on the world stage now.''

Whether Rawlinson can play his part on that stage depends on how well he can maintain a momentum he believes has been assisted by a winter of enforced endurance work following a knee injury that required an operation before Christmas.

Meanwhile Britain's only other winner on the first day, Mark Lewis-Francis, was left nursing what was reported as a "niggle'' in his groin which prevented him running in the sprint relay which concluded the first day's competition. The 20-year-old former world champion, who earned his second European Cup 100m title in a relatively sedate time of 10.22secs, did not enjoy running in a temperature approaching 38C, but his experience was nevertheless a useful one. "It was crazy hot,'' he said, "I nearly passed out in the warm up area - I was light-headed man. I had to lie down. But it gives you more of a focus for what the Olympics will be like in Athens.''