Stricken Chambers races to lifetime best

Sprinter sets record time despite bug to seal spot at European Indoors
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The Independent Online

It was a curate's egg of a day for the respected Dutch coach as he sat in the stands running his discerning eye over his new charges. They have been guilty of underperforming in recent times but yesterday they were good in parts. The best part just happened to be provided by the problem performer inherited by the new man in charge. Just as Guus Hiddink has to deal with the petulance of Didier Drogba, Charles van Commenee has to get to grips with the double-edged sword of Dwain Chambers.

Five days into his new job as head coach of UK Athletics, Van Commenee saw the very best of Chambers on day one of the Aviva European Trials and UK Championships at the English Institute of Sport's indoor arena on the outskirts of Sheffield. Having opened his indoor season with a bang at the Birmingham Games a fortnight ago, Chambers proceeded to produce even more explosive sprinting form through the three rounds of the men's 60 metres in the Steel City.

In Birmingham the Belgrave Harrier had clocked 6.52sec, a lifetime best, at the age of 30. Yesterday he matched that with his winning time in the heat and then stopped the trackside clock at 6.51sec in winning both his semi-final and the final with a yard to spare. That puts the reinstated doping offender joint top of the world rankings, with Michael Rodgers of the US, and makes him the red-hot favourite for the 60m title at the European Indoor Championships, which take place in Turin from 6 to 8 March.

It would not be unreasonable to expect something even quicker from Chambers when he gets to the northern Italian city – something close to Jason Gardener's 10-year-old British record, 6.46sec, if not quicker. Although none of his rivals have been able to get close to him in his two winter competitions thus far – Tyrone Edgar was second in the final yesterday with 6.64 and SimeonWilliamson third with 6.66 – the Londoner has been caught by a cold that left him at less than full throttle.

"My son's got this nursery bug," Chambers said. "I've been down with it, but I've just tried to perform aswell as I can. I'm about 70 per cent today. It shows there's a little bit more to come. Hopefully it'll come outin Turin."

Chambers is free to go for gold there, and also in the main event of the outdoor season this year, the World Championships in Berlin's Olympic Stadiumin August. However, with a doping ban on his athletics CV, courtesy of a positive test for the designer steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) back in 2003, he is ineligible for the British Olympic team in 2012. And developing medal contenders for those home Games three-and-a-half years down the life is at the top of Van Commenee's job description. In the men's sprints at least, the Amsterdammer's hopes for 2012, and those of his adopted nation, will have to be pinned on vests other than that of Chambers.

"I have to deal with the regulations as they are," Van Commenee said. "You wish he was eligible and that he hadn'tdone certain things in his life, but if you start wishing about how life should be you waste a lot of time.

"He was the best by far today. He ran the fastest time in the world, so it was a very good performance. We want favourites in every event but we don't have many of them."

Indeed not. Chambers aside, only one other Briton tops the European rankings in an event that will be on the schedule in Turin: Mo Farah in the 3,000 metres. In the men's 60m,behind Chambers and Christian Blum of Germany, Craig Pickering still lies in third place, despite the bitter disappointment he suffered yesterday. The Milton Keynes athlete was disqualified for a false start in his semi-final. With just the first man past the post in the final guaranteed a place in Turin, though, the 22-year-old is still very much in the selection frame.

Pickering remains the second-fastest Briton of the season, courtesy of the 6.57sec he clocked to win the international fixture in Glasgow a fortnight ago, and he will have another chance to show his pedigree – in the Grand Prix meeting next Saturday at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham – before Van Commenee and his fellow selectors finalise the British team.

Not that he was in the mood for consolation after leaving the track with a pat on the shoulder from Chambers. "If it was me picking the team I would not be in it," Pickering said. "I will just have to wait and see. I can't explain what happened out there. There was a lotof noise in the background, thatdidn't help."

There was a good deal of noise when Kate Dennison cleared 4.45 metres for a new British record in the women's pole vault. That was something to encourage Van Commenee on his return to Britain after four years as the technical director of the Dutch Olympic Committee – as was the 8.30sec recorded by Kelly Sotherton for second place behind GemmaBennett's winning 8.06sec in the60m hurdles.

In his previous stint with UK Athletics, as the technical director for jumps and combined events, Van Commenee guided Sotherton from 57th in the world heptathlon rankings to third place on the Olympic medal rostrum in Athens in 2004.