It is five years now since Richard Buck beat the chimes at York Minster, completing a 440-metre course in the shadow of the great Gothic cathedral in the minute it took for the bells to stop ringing and the clock to strike midday. He was a young buck of 17 when that Yorkshire re-enactment was staged of the scene from Chariots of Fire in which Harold Abrahams beat the clock in the Great Court at Trinity College, Cambridge – a feat the Olympic 100m champion of 1924 never actually achieved. Now, after three years of ill luck, it seems Buck's time as an international 400m runner may have come.
Eight days ago in Birmingham, in the Aviva International at the National Indoor Arena, the Leeds Metropolitan University student came within a whisker of beating Tyler Christopher, the reigning world indoor 400m champion. Leading from the gun, Buck was only passed by the Canadian in the last two strides and still claimed a couple of notable scalps: those of the American Xavier "X-Man" Carter, the last man to beat Usain Bolt over 200m, and Johan Wissman, the Swede who took the silver medal behind Christopher at the World Indoor Championships in Valencia 12 months ago.
Buck's time as runner-up, an indoor personal best of 46.22sec, ranks him fourth in Europe's order of merit ahead of the European Indoor Champion-ships, which open in Turin on Friday and run through to Sunday – behind Italy's Claudio Licciardello (46.03), Leslie Djhone of France (46.18) and the Irishman David Gillick (46.18). The manner in which the 6ft 3in Yorkshireman attacked such a world-class field in Birmingham hinted at medal potential, although getting on to the podium in the Oval Lingotto will be no easy task, what with a home crowd roaring for Licciardello, Djhone boasting an outdoor PB of 44.46sec, Gillick going for a third successive European indoor crown and Wissman gunning for revenge.
"You can't expect to just turn up at the European Champs and have a medal," Buck acknowledged. "It's always a huge ask. If you look at the rankings, it's so close that you think, 'Yeah, one good race and you could come out with a medal; one slightly bad race and you might not even make the final.' All you can do is give it your best shot, and I think my best shot is good enough for me to be really competitive out there. I'm really looking forward to the competition."
As well he might. Buck has competed for Britain before – outdoors at the World Championships in Osaka in 2007 and at the World Indoor Championships in Valencia last year – but injury and illness have held back his progress at international level. In 2006, he travelled to Australia with the England team for the Commonwealth Games but suffered a hamstring injury and did not compete at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
In 2007, he was hit by an Achilles problem and was picked only as a non-travelling reserve for the previous European Indoor Championships in Birmingham. And last summer, short of competitive preparation after suffering from a virus, he went to Beijing as a member of the British 4 x 400m relay squad but never got to run in the Bird's Nest Olympic arena.
"It was frustrating," Buck said of the last experience, "but it would have been a lot worse if I had just been watching it from back here. When I got ill, that's how I thought it was going to be, so I'm glad to have gone.
"It was a great experience. It made me come back home so motivated, and since then my training has gone fantastically well."
That training has been mapped out by Geoff Barraclough, the sprints coach at the City of York Athletics Club. He also happens to be Buck's grand- father, although the Turin hopeful prefers to keep him on first-name terms. "Geoff was the only sprints coach at the club when I started running so I just joined in with his group," Buck said. "I've kept progressing from there and UK Athletics have no qualms with Geoff continuing to coach me. We're working on the basis that if it's not broke, don't fix it."
Britain's golden shots
DWAIN CHAMBERS: Banned from the Beijing Olympics because of his past doping conviction, he has been in the form of his life in the indoor season. The Belgrave Harrier starts as a strong favourite for the 60m, ahead of his British team-mate Simeon Williamson and Germany's Christian Blum.
MO FARAH: His stunning British 3,000m record run in Birmingham last weekend, 7min 34.47sec, puts him five seconds clear at the top of the European rankings – ahead of his close friend and occasional training partner Bob Tahri, the Frenchman who finished fifth in the 3,000m steeplechase at the Beijing Olympics.
MARILYN OKORO: Having come within 0.06sec of Kelly Holmes' British indoor 800m record in Birmingham, the Highgate Harrier goes to Turin with high hopes of a medal and is ranked second behind Italy's Elisa Cusma.
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