Kwakye's next step is to be great outdoors

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The Independent Online

Given the blinkered preoccupation with the Dwain Chambers circus at the World Indoor Championships in Valencia last weekend, the significance of the other silver medal-winning success by a British sprinter was barely noticed. The true magnitude of Jeanette Kwakye's achievement did not even register with the athlete herself until she got a chance to scan the list of past runners-up in the women's 60m.

"We were given a statistics book," the east Londoner reflected, "and I looked at the silver medallists from years gone by and thought, 'Wow'." As well she might, the 24-year-old from Chingford having added her little-known name to a list that includes such stellar track-and-field performers as Merlene Ottey, Gail Devers, Irina Privalova, Gwen Torrence, Kim Gevaert and Lauryn Williams.

For good measure, Kwakye even took the scalp of the Belgian Gevaert – Europe's leading female sprinter of recent times – on the way to the silver she claimed in a scorching 7.08sec, a 0.05sec improvement on the British record time she equalled in her semi-final.

"Getting my name next to those girls is awesome," the burgeoning young Briton added, "because they have got 100m personal bests that are out of this world, so I can look forward to bigger and better things."

The challenge now for Kwakye is to translate her indoor 60m form into making a major breakthrough outdoors in the 100m. At the World Championships in Osaka last August she reached the second round of the 100m, clocking a lifetime best of 11.26sec in the heats. To have any hope of making an impact in the Olympic 100m in Beijing five months from now, she will need to improve significantly on that.

Still, British athletics can celebrate the emergence of a female speed merchant of elite world class. Kwakye was very nearly a world- beater in Valencia, finishing a tantalising 0.02sec off the gold standard and the victorious Angela Williams of the US.

No British woman has ever won a global sprint title and only one has come closer to doing so. Heather Oakes took the 60m silver medal in the 1985 World Indoor Games, the forerunner of the World Indoor Championships, finishing 0.01sec behind Silke Gladisch, one of the army of wonder women who were churned out by the steroid-fuelled East German track-and-field machine.

"It feels good to have got so close," Kwakye reflected. "A lot of it was down to self-belief. I think that, physically, when you step on to the line in a global final you're as capable of doing what the next girl can do. What it then boils down to is: are you mentally prepared to actually go for it? Are you ready to think of yourself as a world championor as a medallist? I haven't always been able to do that, but that run last week kind of proves to me that I can be up there with the best of them."

Her positive attitude is refreshing, but Kwakye clearly still has room for improvement. A graduate in politics from Loughborough University, she turns 25 on Thursday and she has only been training as a full-time athlete for three months.

Until Christmas Eve, she was working in the sales administration department of Rimex Metals in Enfield. "It's definitely made a difference, being able to train full-time and go home and recover well, just like a proper athlete," Kwakye said.

"Rimex supported me when I worked there and they're continuing to support me financially, which is phenomenal. It's the kind of support you don't find in this day and age. They're fantastic people."

The young speed merchant who struck precious metal in Valencia feels much the same about her coach, Mike Afilaka. "He's amazing," she enthused. "He's young and fresh with his ideas. I am so glad that we've been able to go forward as ateam and put our names down internationally."

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