Chambers sparks sprint row after relay Gold

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The Independent Online

Darren Campbell's last hurrah as an international athlete ended with anything but good cheer here yesterday as he refused to join his sprint relay colleagues on a lap of honour after they had earned Britain's only gold at the 19th European Championships.

On a day when three further silvers and a bronze took Britain's total of medals to 11, placing them 10th in the final medals table, the 32-year-old Sale Harrier offered no explicit reason for his decision, merely commenting that he felt he could not join in the celebrations because he was "not a hypocrite".

But Campbell's unhappiness, evident at the medal ceremony, stemmed from the inclusion in the sprint relay team of Dwain Chambers, who returned this season after a two-year doping ban and whose misdemeanours resulted in Britain being stripped of the relay gold medal from the 2002 European Championships.

Campbell, who earned praise from the UK Athletics performance director, Dave Collins, on the eve of the championships for the influence he brought to bear on the relay team, told officials before the 4x100 metres competition started that he did not want to run in the same team as Chambers. Once Chambers was chosen, however, Campbell felt duty-bound to run. His dissatisfaction with Chambers was compounded by the fact that he felt the Londoner had not properly apologised for his actions.

Chambers said after yesterday's win that he had offered his team-mates an apology "face to face" three days earlier. It is understood, however, that the apology did not come unprompted.

"The past is the past and we're all smiling now," Chambers added - a statement that was wrong in every respect.

Collins expressed surprise at Campbell's actions. "As far as I was concerned it had all been sorted out," he said. "They had a meeting and Dwain was very open. Darren said he wasn't happy, but let's get on with it. As far as I was concerned he was happy. I would have expected him to have spoken to me if he wasn't happy."

It is understood that the relay coach Michael Khmel checked that the line-up for the final was acceptable on the night before. Chambers was reported to be ready to stand down if there was an objection.

Britain's medal total was one more than Collins had predicted, something that will no doubt have cheered this beleaguered figure after a week when some of his policies and actions had been widely criticised.

The final tally was significantly improved by relay performances, as the women's sprinters and the men's 400m runners added silver to the men's sprinters' gold. Mohammed Farah performed with huge credit to take another silver in the 5,000m, where he was beaten on the line by Spain's Jesus Espana, and Sam Ellis forced his way through to earn an unexpected bronze in the 800m.

It was a good day for the British team. But in truth, it was the kind of day they used to have every day at European Championships over the past 20 years. Four years ago in Munich they won seven golds - although two of them were later annulled because of Chambers' involvement. This year they won one, something which has occurred only twice before since Britain first entered these Championships in 1938.

While the sprint relay team, which contained three of the members who earned the Olympic title in Athens two years ago, can be rightly proud of a job well done, they offer no great hope for future Olympics. Campbell is on the brink of retirement; Devonish is now 30; and Chambers is ineligible for any future Games under British Olympic Association rules. Only Mark Lewis-Francis, now 23, looks likely to run in Beijing, never mind London 2012.

The lack of empathy within the British quartet was painfully evident in the aftermath of victory. Campbell, who ran the second leg after a handover from Chambers that appeared something of a stretch, ambled down the home straight before waving away Devonish and Lewis-Francis' obvious invitation to join them on a celebratory lap.

Campbell briefly greeted both, but pointedly turned away from Chambers before moving towards the television interview positions, where he told the BBC that it would be hypocritical of him to do a lap of honour, adding: "I've had certain accusations thrown at me because I take part in a team that I have no control [over]. Read the papers. I've made my situation clear."

As he came through to speak to the written media, Campbell, his face blank, offered another opaque statement. "There's your gold," he said. "That's what the sport's about. Celebrate."

There followed a medal ceremony where Chambers and Campbell acted like opposed magnets. Lewis- Francis, too, looked out of sorts. Only Devonish, as usual, was smiling. The top step of the podium looked a mightily uncomfortable place to be.