Malcolm: a sprinter on the long route back to the top

After his European 200m silver, Britain's forgotten fast man is hoping for 100m success at Crystal Palace
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The Independent Online

It came like a blast from the past: Christian Malcolm charging up the home straight of the Montjuic Olympic Stadium a fortnight ago, leading the 200m final at the European Championships with clear daylight behind. Held back by injuries since his fifth-placed finish at the World Championships in Edmonton in 2001, the forgotten man of British sprinting looked poised to succeed where his old junior rival and long-time friend Dwain Chambers had failed in the 100m in Barcelona, by claiming the gold medal and the scalp of the 20-year-old French flyer, Christophe Lemaitre.

It was not to be. Unknown to Malcolm as he approached the line, Lemaitre had been finishing like a TGV. In the very last stride, the Welshman with the will-o'-the-wisp build was caught and outdipped on the line. The title had been snatched from his grasp by 0.01sec.

Still, at the age of 31, Christian has been born again as a major championship medal winner. When he lines up alongside Tyson Gay in the 100m heats at the London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace tonight, Malcolm will be introduced to the crowd as the new European 200m silver medallist. And, after all of the hardships the affable, hugely talented Newport sprinter has been obliged to endure, that will have a musical ring to it. All of the hardships he is still having to endure, actually.

Having been dropped from Lottery funding last year, Malcolm has no money to spend on accommodation while he trains in north London during the week, under the direction of Dan Pfaff at the UK Athletics High Performance Centre at Lee Valley. "I stay at Dwain's house, on the settee," he confided yesterday, "or I stay at my friend's parents' house, in the spare room.

"Lottery was the only form of income for me to pay my bills, so when that got taken from me it was tough, really tough. But I've learnt a lot about myself, if I'm honest. I look back at what a struggle it's been, and it's been well worth it to have come out with a medal. It just goes to show: when you're back's to the wall, you've got to fight yourself out. I think people like myself and Mark Lewis-Francis have done that this year."

Lewis-Francis finished 0.07sec behind Lemaitre as runner-up in the 100m final in Barcelona. Malcolm still has mixed feelings about his silver lining from the 200m, two weeks on. "If you'd said to me a month or two ago, 'You're going to get a silver medal,' I would have gone, 'Yeah, I'll take that'," he reflected. "But the fact that it was so close, it's bittersweet."

It was only the second senior outdoor major championship medal of Malcolm's career. The first was a 200m silver at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998. "I would have thought back then that I would have had a few more medals by now," Malcolm confessed. "I've been unfortunate. I missed out by a few hundredths of a second at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. I was fifth there, and at the World Championships in Edmonton in 2001. Since then, I've had a lot of injuries. I've torn both hamstrings, had tendon problems in both Achilles, had groin issues. And I had kidney failure just before the Athens Olympics in 2004.

"At the Beijing Olympics two years ago I wasn't 100 per cent but I still made the final. Even this year, I haven't really been 100 per cent, so I'm glad there's the Commonwealth Games still to aim for. Hopefully, I can keep on improving for that. I'd like to think I've turned the corner now."

It is fair to say that the 200m specialist, who also contests the longer sprint event on the second day of the Crystal Palace meeting tomorrow, has been helped to negotiate the bend in his career by Pfaff, the American sprint guru who guided Donovan Bailey to Olympic 100m gold in Atlanta in 1996.

"I've learnt a lot from all of my coaches – from Jock Anderson, from Linford Christie, and now Dan," Malcolm said. "Dan's proven he's one of the best in the world. It's great that he's here in the UK at this stage of my career."

It might have all been very different for Malcolm. Football was his first sporting love and, as a flying right-winger, he played for the Nottingham Forest youth team. He also supplied the crosses in the South Wales Schools XI for a scrawny young goalpoacher called Craig Bellamy. "We were big rivals, too," Malcolm recalled. "He played for Cardiff Schools and I played for Newport Schools. We had a lot of big games over the years – very close, very intense.

"Yeah, Craig had something about him. He was a great finisher. You could see that he would go far."