Lewis-Francis finds silver lining after Lemaitre storms to gold

Click to follow
The Independent Online

So, no European gold for Dwain Chambers this time, then. No cleanly won prize to replace the fool's gold the Briton won in Munich in 2002 – the tainted one he had to send back in a Jiffy bag when it came to light that the Londoner had been fuelled to victory by a tank full of anabolic steroids.

And no closely-fought duel for the crowd to savour in the Montjuic Olympic Stadium. Not for the gleaming gold medal, at any rate. When it got down to the high speed crunch in the men's100m final on day two of the European Championships last night, Christophe Lemaitre proved a class apart. His name translates as "the master" and it was clear that the young Frenchman had the better of his seven rivals some 30m into the race.

The tall, coltish 20-year-old did not pull clear by the hugest of margins but in the context of last night's contest 0.07sec was decisive. Less than three weeks after he entered the history books as the first white sprinter to break 10 seconds for the 100m, Lemaitre became the first white 100m champion of Europe since the days of the Berlin Wall – when Frank Emmelmann prevailed in Athens wearing the blue vest of East Germany.

There was no sub-10 second feat on this occasion, the young French master stopping the digits on the trackside clock at 10.11. To the astonishment of all in attendance, the big Belgrave Harrier included, there was to be no medal of any colour for Chambers. To equal, if not greater surprise, there was to be a consolation prize for another British speed merchant, though – to the complete bemusement of the man himself, Mark Lewis-Francis.

Six weeks ago Chambers had been too strong for Lemaitre at the European Team Championships in Bergen, winning by 0.03sec in 9.99sec – his first legal sub-10 clocking for nine years. Last night he got off to the better start but was unable to generate any serious momentum. Lemaitre dipped for the line a clear winner but Chambers was one of four who crossed it together, in one collective blanket-line flash.

Lewis-Francis, who had only made the cut for the final as a fastest loser, was another – plus Francis Obikwelu, the Portuguese sprinter who became the 2002 champion after Chambers was retrospectively disqualified and who retained the title in Gothenburg four years ago, and another emerging French flyer, Martial Mbandjock. As Lemaitre circled the track on a lap of honour, draped in a Tricolore, the quartet waited for their positions and times to appear on the scoreboard.

After a delay of five minutes, the reason for the prolonged pause became clear. All four had clocked the same time, 10.18sec, but after consultation of the photo-finish picture, Lewis-Francis was given second place – and the silver – Mbandjock third, Obikwelu fourth and Chambers fifth. Taken to the thousandth of a second, the result was: 1 Lemaitre 10.107, 2 Lewis-Francis 10.172, 3 Mbandjock 10.173, 4 Obikwelu 10.178, 5 Chambers 10.178.

No one looked more shocked than Lewis-Francis when the result finally flashed up. "Oh my days!" he exclaimed, after being embraced by a gracious Chambers. "Oh my god! Oh my god! I got to the final on a lucky star and I got to these championships on a lucky star. I am the happiest man in the world. I said I'd take fourth place before the final and I ended up with second.

"I didn't think I'd beat Chambers – no way – but Linford says whatever happens, happens. A big thank you to Linford Christie. If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be here now. I'm European silver medallist. Wow!"

Quite. On the track where Lewis-Francis's coach won Olympic 100m gold in 1992, the 27-year-old one-time West Midlands wonder boy returned to medal-winning form in stunning fashion. Since memorably anchoring the British 4x100m relay to victory at the Athens Olympics six years ago, the Birchfield Harrier has been struck by serious injury (he has had surgery on both Achilles), and suffered the embarrassment of being given a rap on the knuckles – a minor three-month suspension and an official warning – after testing positive for cannabis in 2005.

"Mark deserves to have got a medal," a sanguine Chambers reflected. "All I can do is smile about it. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. The main guy, Christophe Lemaitre, came here and did what he had to do. I had to rely on my experience and that kept me relaxed but it wasn't good enough. I'll be back. I've just got to keep ploughing on until I take my opportunity to prevail."

Martyn Rooney will be hoping that he can take his chance in the 400m final tomorrow – and follow Lewis-Francis's example. The Croydon Harrier scraped through only as one of the fastest losers. As Jonathan Borlée strode to an assured victory in the opening semi-final last night, clocking a Belgian record of 44.71sec ahead of Frenchman Leslie Djhone, Rooney crossed the line third in 45.00sec. "I made silly mistakes," he reflected. "I slowed down at 200m and kicked too early. I can't make those mistakes in the final."

Michael Bingham made no mistake in his semi-final. He was overtaken just before the line by Ireland's David Gillick but clocked a season's best of 44.88sec in second place. Both Britons will have their sights on a medal come final time but the gold seems destined for Borlée – Jonathan Borlée, that is. His twin brother, Kevin, will also be on the start line.

Who is the master?

Christophe Lemaitre

Born Annecy, June 1990

* Earlier this season, became the first white athlete to run the 100m in under 10 seconds, recording a national record 9.98 at the French Championships. He said: 'One has to run under 10 seconds in order to be part of the world's best.'

* Finished fourth in the 100m of the World Youth Championships in the Czech Republic in 2007.

* Secured the 200m in the World Junior Championships in Poland in 2008.

* Won 100m gold at the European Junior Championships in 2009, setting a junior record of 10.04.