Lewis-Francis fulfils his golden expectations

He had just won the gold medal in the 100 metres, making him officially the world's fastest teenager, and Mark Lewis-Francis knew how to celebrate. Having reached the greatest heights possible in junior competition here at the foot of the Andes, the 18-year-old went into downtown Santiago late on Wednesday looking for a Burger King.

He had just won the gold medal in the 100 metres, making him officially the world's fastest teenager, and Mark Lewis-Francis knew how to celebrate. Having reached the greatest heights possible in junior competition here at the foot of the Andes, the 18-year-old went into downtown Santiago late on Wednesday looking for a Burger King.

After the glitter and glamour of the Sydney Olympics, there is a charming innocence about the World Junior Championships in Chile, and Lewis-Francis, Britain's first medallist of the week, reinforced that. After winning the final in 10.12 seconds, establishing a record winning margin of 0.26sec, Lewis-Francis admitted to having had two sleepless nights. "I've never been as nervous before in my life," he said.

Having surprised many when he gave up a place in the British team for the Olympics to race here, and having attracted the plaudits of the two most recent 100m world record-holders, Donovan Bailey - who called Lewis-Francis "the most phenomenal talent I have ever seen" - and Maurice Greene - "he is outstanding" - the expectations weighed on Lewis-Francis heavily.

"It gave me a big boost when great sprinters like Donovan Bailey and Maurice Greene said what they did, but it all brings pressure," Lewis-Francis said yesterday morning, sitting in the stands of the Estadio Nacional to watch his team-mates. "Before the final last night, I just wanted the race to get underway. I couldn't wait.

"I was expected to win the European Juniors in Riga last year, but I only came second. I wanted this gold medal so badly ever since." Lewis-Francis now joins a growing group of British sprinters who have won medals in the 100m at these championships - six times in the eight World Juniors since they began in 1986 has a Briton been on the medal podium, including the likes of Christian Malcolm, Darren Campbell, silver medallist at 200m in Sydney, and Jason Gardener.

Such a success rate has prompted repeated enquiries about the British "system". Yet, as Lewis-Francis illustrates, there remains no system beyond the good will and efforts of thousands of volunteer officials and coaches in British clubs.

They include people like Steve Platt, the unpaid coach at Birchfield Harriers in Birmingham, who discovered Lewis-Francis's budding talent when the young lad arrived at the Alexander Stadium as an 11-year-old.

"Steve's put up with me for the last six years, encouraging me, keeping me going all that time," said Lewis-Francis. Perhaps just as importantly, Platt has also ensured that Lewis-Francis has not done too much hard work too soon. Which means the rest of the world's top sprinters had better watch out.

"I want to run consistently under 10.1sec next year," Lewis-Francis said, "so I'll probably do more training this winter - maybe three days a week, instead of two."

Comments