Athletics: Sprinter to face arrest on return

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Life in the fast lane has proved to be fraught with problems for Britain's track and field speed merchants of late, though Mark Lewis-Francis did steal a march on his troubled colleagues in that regard yesterday when he travelled here to the Austrian capital while a warrant was being issued for his arrest in the West Midlands.

The 19-year-old sprinter boarded a flight with British team-mates from Birmingham to Vienna, where he is due to run in the 60 metres heats on the opening day of the European Indoor Championships tomorrow, instead of appearing at Wolverhampton Crown Court to be sentenced for motoring offences. He had been charged at a previous date with driving without a licence, insurance or M.O.T., with failing to produce documents and with failing to stop at a red light.

The news appeared to come as much as a surprise to Lewis-Francis as it did to British team officials. "In the summer of 2001 I pleaded not guilty by post to the offence of driving without a full licence," the athlete said. "I have heard nothing since and I am mystified about today's summons."

UK Athletics, the governing body of track and field in Britain, issued a statement, saying: "UK Athletics wishes to confirm the offence relates to driving without a full licence. UK Athletics was unaware that Mark Lewis-Francis was due to appear in court today and has provided paperwork to the court to explain that Mark has travelled to the European Indoor Championships." There were no plans being made last night for Lewis-Francis to return home from Vienna, where he would start as one of Britain's leading medal contenders. The Birchfield Harrier is ranked second in the 60m, behind his British team-mate Jason Gardener, who only 11 days ago was the innocent victim of the false start fiasco that marred the Norwich Union Indoor Grand Prix meeting at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham. Gardener was absolved from blame after a UK Athletics enquiry discovered that faulty equipment had been responsible for the false start debited to him in the 60m final.

Last week Christian Malcolm, the top ranked contender for the 200m in Vienna, appeared before magistrates in Abergavenny after failing to produce his motoring documents within the required time limit after a routine check ­ and then with providing an insurance schedule instead of an insurance certificate.

The Great Britain captain, John Mayock, has called for the organisers in Vienna to offer prize-money. Mayock, who leads Britain for the second time in four years, believes the European Athletic Association should be offering cash incentives at the championships.

No EAA events offer prize-money, whereas the International Association of Athletic Federations have offered substantial amounts since 1993.

Mayock said: "In any other sport at this level I believe payments are made. The level of competition is just as high as the world's [World Championships]. Certainly the top three should get prize-money."