Athletics: Marvellous Marlon helps sprinters restore respect

Devonish leads way in relay as Britain continue to exceed expectations with fourth medal. By Simon Turnbull in Osaka
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The Independent Online

The drought is over. After two nights without a World Championships medal in the Nagai Stadium, the Great Britain team were back in delivery mode once again yesterday. Picking up the metaphorical baton leftby Christine Ohuruogu andNicola Sanders with theirone-two in the women's 400m final on Wednesday, the British quartet in the men's 4 x 100m relay final – Christian Malcolm, Craig Pickering, Marlon Devonish and Mark Lewis-Francis – managed to get the real stick around the track in a medal position. They did so in style, taking bronze behind theUnited States and Jamaica in 37.90sec – 0.17sec faster than the time that brought them Olympic gold in Athens three years ago.

It was almost a silver, but as the US sped to a clear victory in 37.78sec the fast-finishing Asafa Powell edged Lewis-Francis in the last stride by 0.01sec. Still, it took Britain's medal tally for the championships to four, adding to Ohuruogu's gold and Sanders' silver from the 400m and Kelly Sotherton's bronze from the heptathlon. That is one over the official British team target, with one day of competition still to go.

For Devonish, who ran a stormer of a bend against Tyson Gay on the third leg, it was a record fourth sprint relay medal in six World Championships. The Coventrian speed merchant actually won another, a silver, in Paris in 2003, although that was officially deleted from the record books when it emerged that Dwain Chambers, who ran the anchor leg, had been powered by the products of a Californian laboratory.

"It's nice to be part of the team still," Devonish said. "It changes from year to year but it keeps delivering." It certainly does. It was 10 years ago in Athens that Devonish won his first medal, a bronze. His latest was duereward for a vintage season by the 31-year-old, the appointedcaptain of the relay squad.

"He's our Captain Marvellous," Malcolm said. "Yeah, I'm Marvellous Marlon," Devonish agreed, bobbing and weaving Marvin Hagler-style in the bowels of the stadium.

There was very nearly a British medal from the supposed make-weights of the women's sprint relay team. Punching impressively above their perceived weight, Laura Turner, Montell Douglas, Emily Freeman and Joice Maduaka took fourth place in their final, behind the US,Jamaica and Belgium. They missed third by 0.12sec, clocking42.87sec.

There is hope of more global booty, though, before the medal rostrum is dismantled tonight. In the heats of the women's4 x 400m relay, Lee McConnell, Donna Fraser, Marilyn Okoro and Sanders qualified a comfortable second behind the United States, in a time of 3min 25.45sec. With the golden girl from the individual 400m to add to the mix, there is a genuine prospect of a top-three placing in the final at 12.30pm, British time.

"Christine warmed up with us tonight," Sanders reported of her rival and team-mate. "She's feeling good."

It would be stretching it to suggest that this is a great British athletics team, but against all doom-laden expectations it has proved to be a fairly good one. After the nadir of last summer, when there was no individual British winner at the European Championships for the first time and no British athlete ranked in the world top 10, these World Championships have been a significant step forward, not just on the long haul to 2012 but on the short hop to Beijing.

"I would suggest that the supertanker has turned and it's steaming into clearer waters," Dave Collins, the performance director of UK Athletics, said, "but I'd like it to steam a bit quicker, please." Certainly, with 18 personal bests – compared with none at the last World Championships, in Helsinki two years ago – the threat fromicebergs would appear to be over.

It was a titanic performance by Jo Pavey on day one that launched the British revival. The 33-year-old Devonshire woman ran her heart out in the 10,000m, only to finish cruelly out of the medals in fourth. It was always likely that the effort would take its toll in the 5,000m final yesterday, and thus it proved.

When it came to the last-lap burn-up, Pavey had nothing left in the tank. She finished down in ninth in 15min 04.77sec.

"I think by doing the 10,000m and the 5,000m I was putting damage on damage," she said. "I struggled with the recovery, but I wanted to give it a go." Still,the brave Briton was the first European finisher in a race that doubled as the de facto East African Championships.

It was Defar from the madding crowd when the chase for gold began in earnest as Meseret Defar, the Olympic champion and world record holder, burst clear from the lead group to win in 14:57.91. Her husband, Teodros Hailu, is a footballer back home. When these Ethiopian WAGs hit the town it is for a brisk 10- miler around the streets rather than a stroll for a Gucci bag.

Watch the final day of action at the World Championships on BBC1, from 11am

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