Danvers sparkle distracts crowd from missing stars

Pilot Super8 event proves a hit despite sponsorship row causing late withdrawals
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The Independent Online

It was billed as track and field's answer to Twenty20 but before the openers had even got out into the middle in the Cardiff International Sports Stadium last night, there was something of a googly for the Super8 competition to contend with. The pilot event of the two-hour inter-city contest had already been deprived of Olympic 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu and European indoor 60m champion Dwain Chambers, because of the counter-attraction of an invitation meeting at Montreuil on the outskirts of Paris tonight. Then, as the eight teams started to assemble – Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow, London North, London South, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield – came the news that two Beijing Olympians and one emerging young star would be absent because of a dispute over kit.

It emerged that Nike had blocked heptathlete Kelly Sotherton, long jumper Greg Rutherford and 1500m runner Hannah England from taking part in the pioneering event.

"There are more than 140 athletes competing at the inaugural Super8 and personal sponsorship obligations have led to three athletes having to withdraw from the competition," Claire Pulford, head of marketing and communications for UK Athletics, said. "However, we believe we can find a workable solution with all interested parties for the future of Super8."

Thankfully, the dark clouds that had threatened to pour a further dampener on proceedings had passed before the action got underway. There was a ray of sunshine in the opening track event, too. The one British Olympic medallist from Beijing supporting the event, Tasha Danvers, shot from her starting blocks to claim victory in the 100m hurdles. Captaining the London South team, the 400m hurdles specialist was a clear winner in 13.39sec, finishing 0.27sec ahead of Birmingham's Louise Hazel. "I think this is a great competition," Danvers said. "It's like this in the US collegiate system – all fast-paced action and not much down-time for the spectators. It's an extra bonus to compete for money when you're not sponsored."

As a winner of one of the 10 men's and women's individual events on the programme, Danvers earned £1,000 for her toil. As for those with kit sponsorship deals that precluded them, she said: "For athletes, it's not good when you can't compete. This is a pilot. These things are going to happen. I'm sure everyone will come to an amicable solution. It's just a minor glitch."

Sadly, there was one of those to come for Danvers. She pulled up clutching her right hamstring in the final event, the medley relay. She must be a doubt now for the European Team Championships at the end of next week at Leiria in Portugal.

Still, the 2,500 sell-out crowd were not exactly getting their clothing in a twist about the no-shows. For them, the only trouble was keeping up with the Billy Whizz pace of the action. There was plenty of a high quality, not least in the women's 400m. Jenny Meadows, with two impressive 800m wins under her belt this summer (including one against Olympic champion Pamela Jelimo) dropped down to the one-lap event and produced a storming finish, almost claiming the scalp of Vicky Barr, a member of Britain's silver medal winning European Indoor 4x400m quartet. Barr prevailed by 0.05sec in 53.96sec.

There were also impressive wins for Chris Tomlinson in the long jump (7.96m), Carl Myerscough in the shot put (20.26m) and Craig Pickering in the 100m (10.24sec). Certainly, there was more than enough to suggest that there might be a future for the Super8 – possibly even one of an orange hue.

In keeping with the Twenty20 theme, perhaps, there were a smattering of Dutch athletes boosting the city teams. In the women's shot put Melissa Boekelman proved herself a thrower above the Stuart Broad class, winning with 16.69m. She earned eight points for Newcastle, though overall victory went to London South.