After the gold rush, the silver lining. And a bonus bronze, too, for the Great Britain team on the final day of the World Indoor Championships.
As Jenny Meadows turned into the finishing straight in the Aspire Dome yesterday, she was in the lead in the 800m final and in sight of a third gold medal for the British team she had been captaining in Qatar. When she glanced up at the giant screen ahead of her, though, she could see trouble looming on her shoulder in the form of Mariya Savinova, a half-miler blessed with the speed of a world-class quarter-miler. Unlike Jessica Ennis in the pentathlon and Dwain Chambers in the 60m final the previous day, Meadows could not quite keep herself in the gold medal picture.
She gave everything she had, but halfway down the home straight the 5ft 1in Wiganer known as the "Pocket Rocket" found herself trailing in the afterburners of a Russian jet fighter. "With 100m to go, I was thinking, 'I am going to win it'," Meadows said. "I looked up at the screen and I saw who was behind me and I was thinking, 'keep going, keep driving'. Mariya's run 52.05sec for 400m this year and I knew I was up against it."
She was that, but while Savinova blasted to gold in 1min 58.26sec, Meadows took a chunk out of the British record she set in Birmingham three weeks ago. Her time, 1:58.43, was an improvement of 0.68sec – further confirmation of the 28-year-old's place among the global elite, following her brilliant breakthrough bronze medal run at the outdoor World Championships in Berlin last summer.
"The time says it all," Meadows said, with a smile of satisfaction. "Hopefully, there are big things in me, so I can keep on building. Today was very different from Berlin: learning how to handle the nerves and the expectations."
Happily, when it came to the men's 4 x 400m final, the British team – Conrad Williams, Nigel Levine, Chris Clarke and Richard Buck – managed to handle the rough and tumble of a race in which the Bahamas and Jamaica came to grief on leg two. Buck anchored the quartet to bronze behind the United States and Belgium, in a time of 3min 07.52sec. All of which left the Great Britain squad not quite partying like it was 1999, when they won a record three golds in Maebashi, but fourth in the medal table behind the United States, Ethiopia and Russia with a final tally of two golds, one silver and one bronze.
It was fair to say there was an extra glint to the gold that Ennis earned in the five events of the pentathlon on Saturday. For one thing, the Sheffielder beat all three women who got on to the heptathlon medal podium at the Beijing Olympics, which she missed after suffering a triple stress fracture in her right foot: Natalya Dobrinska, Hyleas Fountain and Tatyana Chernova. For another, she beat them in style, breaking Carolina Kluft's championship record and missing Irina Belova's world record by 54 points, finishing with a tally of 4,937 points.
"Kluft had several bashes at that world record and she didn't achieve it," Ennis's coach, Toni Minichello, said. "So for Jess to get that close was remarkable." Especially so, considering his charge had been forced out of competition for six weeks with a foot problem. Ennis herself was simply satisfied to have backed up her heptathlon victory at the outdoor World Championships last year. "That's the nicest thing," she said, "to come back this year and prove I'm not a one-hit wonder."
At 24, Ennis actually happens to be only the second two-hit wonder in British athletics history – the second Briton to have won world titles indoors and out. Colin Jackson was the first, back in 1999. The Welsh hurdler never quite scaled the ultimate peak in the sport, winning Olympic silver in Seoul in 1988 but no gold. Two years out from the home Games of 2012, Ennis has established herself as Britain's biggest hope for gold in the track and field arena.
For Chambers, of course, there will be no home Olympics in which to compete, thanks to his past doping deeds. Still, at the age of 31, the Londoner has a global title in the bag, having emerged victorious from the 60m final on Saturday in 6.48sec. "This was my big opportunity to become a world champion," he said.
In the final round of the final event of the championships, the men's triple jump, the 20-year-old Frenchman Teddy Tamgho snatched gold from Yoandris Betanzos of Cuba with a stunning world indoor record of 17.90m. Watching events from home, having chosen not to defend the title, Phillips Idowu – with 2012 in mind – must have felt like he, too, had been Tamghoed.
Highs and lows: Britons compared
*On the plus side...
Finishing fourth in the medal table. Jessica Ennis taking pentathlon gold and Carolina Kluft's championship record. Dwain Chambers (right) winning his first global title at 31. Jenny Meadows backing up her world outdoor bronze with 800m silver. The men's 4x400m relay team snatching bronze.
*On the flip side...
Kate Dennison failing to qualify for the pole vault final. Greg Rutherford and Chris Tomlinson doing likewise in the long jump. The women's 4x400m relay team finishing fifth, just being pipped for fourth by the Czech Republic. Harry Aikines-Aryeetey pulling up with a hamstring injury in the 60m semi-finals.