First rush of youth for Lewis-Francis

New kid quick off the blocks as he emulates illustrious predecessors
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The Independent Online

Mark Lewis-Francis has some way to go yet before he is officially classified as a senior athlete. Not until the summer of 2003, in fact, does he step up from junior status. In the meantime, though, the 18-year-old Birchfield Harrier is getting a mightily impressive head start in the man's world of senior competition. In 10.13sec of powerful sprinting here in the Weserstadion yesterday, he added the European Cup 100m title to the world indoor championship 60m bronze medal he won in Lisbon three months ago.

In doing so, Lewis-Francis took the scalp of Konstantinos Kenteris, the Greek air force officer – 10 years his senior – who flew to Olympic 200m gold in Sydney last year. The powerful West Midlander also propelled himself into élite company as the fifth British sprinter to win the European Cup 100m race, following in the footsteps of Allan Wells, Linford Christie, Dwain Chambers and Darren Campbell. Christie won the event a record six times but was 27 when he claimed his first victory.

It will hardly have consoled Kenteris or the other senior track citizens left trailing in the teenager's wake that Lewis-Francis was running his first 100m for the British senior team. He ran with the assurance of a seasoned top-level campaigner as he recovered from a slightly hesitant start to edge past Kenteris in the final 10 metres, crossing the line with a victory margin of 0.02sec. Not that Lewis-Francis was entirely lacking in naivety.

"I saw the Greek guy's name on the start sheet yesterday," he said, "but I didn't realise it was him. It wasn't until I saw him at the start today that I realised he was the guy who won the 200 in Sydney. It was good to beat him, obviously. It was good to be in the senior team too. The other guys call me 'The Kid'."

The Billy Whizz kid does not turn 19 until September, yet already he is sprinting like a world-beater in the making. Steve Platt, the motor engineer-cum-sprint coach who discovered Lewis-Francis as a 12-year-old speed merchant, has done his best to hold back his prodigy. On his advice, the Darlaston lad missed the Sydney Olympics to concentrate on the world junior championships in Santiago, where he duly struck gold in the 100m. Platt even has Lewis-Francis on a restricted four-day week training regime to guard against the kind of teenage burnout suffered by Linsey Macdonald and Ade Mafe.

The frightening thought for the rest of the sprinting world is how fast Lewis-Francis might be when he hits the senior ranks on a full training load. "I'm glad I've come out here and run 10.13sec in Europe," he said. "I've run 10.10sec in Britain, 10.12sec in the USA and now I've proved I can run fast on the continent. There's still a lot of work to be done. I'm aiming to run a lot faster." The young man with the double-barrelled name and the shotgun speed also has his sights on the fastest man in the world. Organisers of the Norwich Union Challenge match in Glasgow a week today are attempting to persuade Maurice Greene to face Lewis-Francis in the 100m. "I'll race anyone," Lewis-Francis said. "He's the world record holder, but he's only human." So, it transpired is the burgeoning young Briton. Clearly suffering from his earlier exertion, Lewis-Francis was overhauled on the last leg of the final event, the 4 x 100m relay, by the fast-finishing Italian Andrea Colombo. Still, seven points for second place helped the British men finish the opening day in fourth position, behind Poland, Italy and France.

Lewis-Francis was not the only debut boy to perform with distinction in the team defending the Bruno Zauli trophy in the stadium where Dave Watson, the former Sunderland, Manchester City and Southampton centre-half, used to line up in defence for Werder Bremen. Chris Tomlinson finished runner-up in the long jump with an inspired first-round leap of 7.67m, 0.22m behind Danila Burkenya of Russia. It was a stunning result for the 19-year-old Teessider, though not entirely surprising considering his coach happens to be Peter Stanley, the guru behind Jonathan Edwards' triple-jumping success story.

Rob Mitchell also rose to the occasion in the high jump, the 20-year-old clearing 2.19m for fourth place. Tom Mayo, the other new boy in the British men's team, ended up sixth in the 1500m but he went down fighting, having led at the bell. He could have done with the sprinting speed of his uncle Adrian – Adrian Metcalfe, who broke the British 400m record on German soil, in Dortmund in 1961.

So, for that matter could Iwan Thomas, the present holder of the British 400m record. Attempting to regain form after two injury-plagued years, Thomas' lack of racing fitness showed as he faded badly in the home straight, finishing seventh in 46.14 sec. "I'll be back," he said. "I'm a confidence runner. Once I do one decent race I'm sure I'll be back to my best.

"I know if I get back to three-quarters of what I was in 1997 and 1998 I'll be doing well on the world scene."

And if Lewis-Francis manages to fulfil three-quarters of his huge potential he will have the world not so much at his feet as trailing in his wake.

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