Butler races in to reclaim her roots

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The Independent Online

The last British representative to win the women's 3,000m at the European Cup was Zola Budd in Prague 14 years ago. Kathy Butler followed in the footsteps of the barefooted Afrikaner yesterday, another international talent produced in foreign parts but, this time, with much stronger British roots. Butler was born in Edinburgh and spent her first 10 years there, though she strode to an impressive victory in Bremen's Weserstadion with a red maple leaf etched above her right ankle.

The 27-year-old had the Canadian motif tattooed on her leg, along with the five-ring Olympic insignia, when she ran for her adopted land in Atlanta five years ago. She also ran for Canada in the world championships of 1997 and 1999, and in the 1998 Commonwealth Games. Her family settled in the twin city of Kitchener-Waterloo in Ontario, as did another British-born sporting personality who responded to the "your country needs you" call from back home. "I'm from Waterloo; Lennox Lewis is from Kitchener," Butler said after flooring the opposition with a clinical strike yesterday.

Her country certainly needed her. The British women were treading water in eighth and last place in the team classification before Butler's brilliantly executed victory. She left her rivals standing with a decisive break 900m from the finish, pulling clear to win by 1.2sec from Cristina Grosu of Romania in 9min 3.71sec.

"That was exactly what I planned to do before the race," Butler said. "Things seem to be coming together for me."

If things stick together over the next three years. Butler plans to replace her maple leaf with a Union Jack. "If I hadn't had such a terrible year last year I would have changed it then," she said, alluding to her failed bid to make the British Olympic team last summer after moving to Teddington and switching allegiance from Canada.

She dropped out midway through the 5,000m races at the Olympic trials and at the British Grand Prix meeting. Only after she hung up her spikes for the summer did she find she had been suffering from anaemia.

Six years earlier the University of Wisconsin graduate had been afflicted by Graves' Disease, the life-threatening thyroid condition that almost caused Gail Devers to lose her legs. Fortunately, like the American sprinter-cum-hurdler, she made a full recovery – fortunately for herself and now for Britain, it seems. "I don't suddenly feel British now that I've won here," Butler said. "I've always felt British. I always wanted to compete for Britain and after the world championships two years ago I decided to do something about it."

Butler's schedule takes her to Rome for the Golden League meet in the Stadio Olimpico next Friday and to Birmingham for the AAA Championships two weeks later. The most intriguing stop, though, will be in Edmonton for the world championships in August. Not that she is expecting a frosty reception. "Everyone I've spoken to in Canada says they'll be cheering for me," Butler said.

Butler was the only British woman to be the best in Europe yesterday. Natasha Danvers set off in the 400m hurdles with great expectations, having joined Maurice Greene in the élite group coached by John Smith in Los Angeles after making the Olympic final in Sydney. She was on course for second or third place until she hit the penultimate hurdle and crashed to the track. "This falling-down business wasn't part of the plan," the Croydon Harrier said, nursing grazes to her right knee and shoulders after picking herself up and limping home last.

It was not part of the plan envisaged by the British team officials that Janine Whitlock would rise to the occasion with second place in the pole vault. The Trafford athlete did so in style, clearing 4.34m, just one centimetre short of her British record, to help the British women to fourth place at the end of the first day.