Victories by Phillips Idowu, Marlon Devonish and Andy Baddeley enabled Britain to equal its best overall performance of nine wins in the European Cup here yesterday – exactly the kind of result to inspire confidence for the upcoming Olympics.
British male and female athletes finished a sweltering weekend in this Haute-Savoie town at the foot of the Alps in fine fettle – seven of the wins provided by a men's team that became the last winners of a trophy which will be replaced by a new competition next year.
The men's winning margin over Poland of 14 points was also the best Britain have achieved in an event first staged in 1965, while the women finished a creditable third behind Russia and the Ukraine. As Devonish was dragged, laughing and protesting, towards the water jump – the traditional destination for all victorious European Cup captains – the mood of enthusiasm was palpable among athletes who are just over a month away from the Games. The only other European Cup to produce the same number of wins was held at Gateshead in 1989, when Britain's team included Linford Christie, Steve Backley, Kriss Akabusi, Sally Gunnell, Colin Jackson and Tessa Sanderson.
Only the most optimistic of observers would suggest that this team could match the Olympic exploits achieved by those performers – arguably the only potential Olympic medal-winning performance here was that of Idowu, who won his triple jump without undue drama in 17.46 metres.
But for athletes like Martyn Rooney, winner of the 400m on Saturday and narrowly stopped from winning yesterday's concluding relay after producing a body swerve inside two labouring opponents in the home straight worthy of his footballing namesake, this was a significant staging post on the road to Beijing.
Rooney was one of six winners on the opening day, with other victories being provided by Tyrone Edgar in the 100m, Mo Farah in the 5000m, the men's sprint relay team, Jenny Meadows in the 800m and Nicola Sanders in the 400m.
The latter's victory offered tangible proof that the knee injury which has hampered early season preparations had improved significantly, even though the world silver medallist did not risk taking part in yesterday's relay.
There was the suspicion of an injury scare with Idowu after he misjudged his first jump, clipping his calf in the final phase to land sprawling in the pit. Happily the effervescent world indoor champion, whose hair was once again dyed fire red – a colour which he insists he has never lost with – recovered to post a second round effort of 17.29m which established him in a lead which he extended with his next jump.
"It was a win. It will do. This was about securing victory for the team," Idowu said, explaining that he had gestured to the spectators to stop clapping and encouraging him as he stood in preparation for his second jump. "I had to ask them to quieten down so I could concentrate on what I needed to do," he said. "They were clapping as soon as I was on the runway, and I had to make sure I could get a jump in."
He maintained that he generally thrived on crowd support, but added with a broad grin beneath the peak of his Duff beer cap: "If I tell them not to clap, they're not allowed to clap."
Of all the British performers this weekend, however, none was more deserving of applause than Meadows, who ran a typically determined 800m with a black ribbon pinned to her running vest to mark the death two weeks ago of her father, Keith.
"We had only found out four weeks before that he had cancer, so it was quite a shock," said Meadows, whose hand bore her father's name. "He was my biggest fan – he followed me at all the events, and he'd already sorted out what to do about getting tickets for the Olympics. He was so passionate, so proud of the British team – and not just because of me. He knew everything about the sport.
"Dad always prided himself that I was a gutsy runner, and he would have been so proud to have seen me win here. I had his wedding ring on today, so like to think he was running with me."
Six years ago in this same venue Britain secured what was then a fifth European Cup victory, although the record books now show them as fourth on that occasion following the retrospective annulment of Dwain Chambers' 100m victory following his positive doping test.
Devonish, who won the 200m in 20.52sec after moving up two places in the last 80 metres, was greatly encouraged by the overall performance of his team, but resisted the opportunity to comment upon the fact that Britain had had to wait another six years to finally secure their fifth European Cup victory. "It hurt to lose the Cup, but you have to move on," he said.
Baddeley had to do even more late work than his captain to secure his win at 3000m, overhauling Spain's Jesus España in the final couple of metres after getting himself boxed in with 150 metres to go. It was another significant marker for a man who has built on his successes of last season by joining the likes of Seb Coe, Steve Cram and Peter Elliott in becoming a winner of the Oslo Dream Mile.
World 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu produced a fine finish to be second in the 200m in 23.23sec, while long jumper Jade Johnson, who dropped off Lottery funding two years ago, earned second place with a personal best of 6.81m, an Olympic-qualifying time. Heptathlete Kelly Sotherton distinguished herself at an unfamiliar distance, with a dogged final leg of the 400m relay in 51.5sec, the fastest split time of any of the British team.
For Sotherton, who came off the track beaming, such evidence of competitive appetite augurs well for an Olympic competition which will be without both her British rival Jessica Ennis and the defending champion, Carolina Kluft.
Gatlin seeks an injunction to halt exclusion from US Olympic trials
Justin Gatlin, winner of the 2004 Olympic 100m, will learn today whether he will have a chance of defending that title following his unsuccessful appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to reduce his doping suspension.
The 26-year-old will attend a hearing where he will seek an injunction against his exclusion from the US Olympic trials, which start on Friday.
Gatlin has the backing of a federal judge, Lacey Collier, who has issued an order prohibiting officials from preventing him from competing.
The sprinter, who has accepted his positive testosterone finding from 2006, argued at CAS that his first doping offence in 2001, when he had taken medicine to counteract Attention Deficit Disorder, should have been ruled ineligible.
Both the US Anti Doping Agency and USA Track and Field will participate in the hearing. "Mr Gatlin's defences to his steroid doping violation have already been fully considered and rejected by the CAS which he agreed has exclusive jurisdiction over this matter," the USADA said.
Meanwhile Asafa Powell won the 100m at the Trinidad national championships in 9.96sec on Saturday and named Jamaican Usain Bolt, his successor as world record holder, as his main challenger for Olympic gold.
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