Lewis-Francis joins the elite

Countdown to Sydney 2000: Campbell and Co upstaged by sprinting's boy wonder
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The Independent Online

It has taken Darren Campbell eight years, but at Crystal Palace yesterday he finally got the better of the man he calls his "demon". By a margin of 0.01sec, the Mancunian beat Ato Boldon to third place in the 100m A race at the Norwich Union British Grand Prix. It was the first time he had finished ahead of the Trinidadian in a rivalry stretching back to the 1992 world junior championships, from which Boldon emerged with 100m and 200m gold medals and Campbell with a pair of silvers.

It has taken Darren Campbell eight years, but at Crystal Palace yesterday he finally got the better of the man he calls his "demon". By a margin of 0.01sec, the Mancunian beat Ato Boldon to third place in the 100m A race at the Norwich Union British Grand Prix. It was the first time he had finished ahead of the Trinidadian in a rivalry stretching back to the 1992 world junior championships, from which Boldon emerged with 100m and 200m gold medals and Campbell with a pair of silvers.

Both were beaten by the Canadian Bruny Surin and the American Tim Montgomery, who clocked 10.16sec and 10.18 respectively. But all eight men in the main 100m race were upstaged by the Billy Whizz-kid from West Bromwich. Mark Lewis-Francis started his summer season with a bang, beating Campbell at the Lough- borough International meeting in May in 10.25sec. Yesterday the 17-year-old student exploded from his starting blocks in the B race and stopped the track-side clock at 10.09sec.

"I thought it must have stopped half-way through the race," he said. It was fractionally short of the Birchfield Harrier's actual time but the 10.10sec with which he wasofficially credited elevated him to the British all-time élite. Allan Wells' best time was10.11 and he was an Olympic champion.

Campbell, who was timed at 10.20sec yesterday, and the rest of the senior British speed merchants will have the fast-emerging junior to worry about at the Olympic trials in Birmingham next weekend, though Lewis-Francis insists his sights are not set on Sydney. "I'm not interested in the Olympics," he said. "The world junior championships in Chile in October is my main focus this year. It's my last chance to win a world junior title. I've got loads of Olympics ahead of me."

He hopes to have loads of room for improvement too. "I'm working hard on my speed endurance," he said. "That can certainly get a lot better."

Campbell - at 26, Lewis-Francis' senior by nine years - remains the British and European number one this year. Indeed, on the form he has produced in his last three races (10.09sec to win the European Cup at Gateshead, 10.06 to take third place behind Boldon and the Barbadian Obadele Thompson in Stockholm last Tuesday and third place ahead of Boldon yesterday), the Belgrave Harrier is emerging as a possible medal contender for Sydney.

That itself is an Olympian achievement considering he started the summer as the third man of British 100m running, behind the two men who made their mark ahead of him at global level last year: Dwain Chambers, the world championship 100m bronze medallist, and Jason Gardener, the world indoor 60m bronze medallist.

Campbell has eclipsed them both in the past two months, though unlike Chambers and Gardener he has yet to gain membership of the elite club of sprinters who have broken 10 seconds for 100m. His best remains the 10.04 he clocked in winning the European title in Budapest two years ago.

"I don't worry about going under ten seconds," Campbell insisted. "When it's meant to be it'll be. I'm just quietly happy with the way things are going for me this year. I feel like I'm up there with the top guys."

If events had worked out only slightly differently for him, though, Campbell might have been preparing to face Paul Gascoigne in Plymouth rather than Maurice Greene in Sydney. Britain's number one 100m man was once a number seven for Plymouth Argyle, who entertain Everton and their Geordie joker tomorrow night. Six years ago he played eight games as a reserve team trialist at Home Park and would probably still be restricting his speed to right-wing duties had fate not intervened. It just so happened that Argyle were in the midst of managerial upheaval when he was with them. He signed for Weymouth, assuming he had not done enough to impress at Plymouth - only for Neil Warnock to offer him a contract.

It was too late. Campbell had already committed his future to playing as a part-timer in the Beazer Homes League, though after two seasons of non-League football, with Cwmbran and Newport as well as Weymouth, he decided to return to his sporting roots.

It has been a wise choice. In his early twenties Campbell might have struggled to bridge the gap from junior success to senior competition but he is rapidly closing on the world's fastest men now. The trouble is he has a teenage prodigy from the West Midlands rapidlyclosing on him.

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