Lewis-Francis joins scorched earth society

World Championships: Briton becomes fastest teenager in world while Russian's reinstatement may spark protest
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The Independent Online

The eighth World Championships came alive here yesterday with a series of outstanding sprinting performances in the 100 metres second round, with Britain's Mark Lewis-Francis providing the highlight in running 9.97sec into a 2.1 metres per second headwind.

The 18-year-old world junior champion bucked and whooped in delight after crossing the line – as well he might, having become the first teenager to break 10sec in what is only his first season in senior racing.

With every race, Lewis-Francis closes on his ambition of being the fastest man in the world. But others are still ahead of him. Dwain Chambers responded by recording the same time in the next heat, equalling the personal best he set in winning the world bronze two years ago despite slowing before the line.

But the British performances, perhaps inevitably, were set in context by that of the defending champion, Maurice Greene, who recorded 9.88sec into a mighty headwind of 5.1 metres per second. Tim Montgomery, who won the US title in Greene's absence and has subsequently run the second fastest ever time of 9.84sec, also laid his claim with a 9.92sec time easing up.

"I wasn't expecting to do it so soon in the championship," Lewis-Francis said. "I couldn't believe it when I saw the time. I blasted it to 60 metres and just relaxed. I've got a lot more in me. That was an easy 9.97. I wasn't flat out at the end. I've got three years of hard training ahead of me. Then I'll be ready for Greene."

Chambers, though, still looks capable of getting there first. After contending with a first-round distraction, when officials ruled that his spikes were too wide and he had to borrow a pair of Iwan Thomas's shoes, the problem was sorted out and he was able to revert to his normal shoe. "After I saw what Mark did and I couldn't believe it, I thought I'd have to go out and put down a marker," Chambers said.

All appears set for the most fascinating, and the fastest, 100m final since the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo which, like these, took place on a newly laid Mondo track which favours sprinters.

But if the championships are likely to earn a badge of honour tonight, they are doomed to a badge of dishonour later in the week following a shamefaced announcement yesterday from their doping expert Arne Ljungqvist that, because of a technical error, the Russian runner Olga Yegorova, who has been suspended following a positive test for the blood booster EPO in Paris last month, has to be restored to the 5,000 metres field here.

Embarrassment and outrage now appear inevitable. Earlier this week, the Olympic champion Gabriela Szabo said she would boycott the event if Yegorova, who has beaten her several times this year after improving her best time by 10 seconds, was included.

Britain's Paula Radcliffe, who is planning to run the 5,000m after contesting Tuesday's 10,000m final, is also bound to become involved. A long-time campaigner for blood testing in the sport, she has said she will lead a one minute sit-down protest should Yegorova be allowed to run.

"For strictly legal reasons, the IAAF had no other choice than lifting the ban on this athlete since the analysis of her sample had not been conducted in accordance with the properly validated protocols," Ljungqvist said. "I regret to have to tell you that I am sort of confused by this. The French authorities have made an analysis with a protocol they know was not validated."

Ljungqvist said that for legal reasons it would not be possible to punish Yegorova retrospectively for the Paris infringment if any further test on the sample confirmed the original test. He added, however, that Yegorova was one of those included in the current, fully validated testing programme for EPO which is being operated at these championships. "It is important that this fact should be known," he said. Confusion over the test has already caused several days of bad publicity for the IAAF, and the latest revelation will do nothing to improve the situation.

Whether Mark Richardson will be able to do himself justice in the 400m after having his doping ban lifted was open to question after he took the second qualifying place in the opening heat in 45.66sec. Afterwards the 29-year-old complained that he was feeling discomfort from the Achilles tendon injury which has hampered his preparations this year.

He will be joined in the semi-finals by Iwan Thomas, drafted into the team a day after the deadline after achieving the qualifying mark, although Thomas also struggled as he held on narrowly to the third qualifying place in his heat. Afterwards he revealed that a bizarre training accident on Monday, when he tripped over his spikes, had prevented him even jogging before yesterday's race, leaving him with injuries to his Achilles, hamstring and groin.

For the former world indoor champion Jamie Baulch, however, the event ended once again in disappointment as he made a first-round exit, just as he had at last year's Sydney Olympics.