Mackie relays the new age message

Norman Fox surveys the fledgling talent which may flourish in Munich
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The Independent Online
Athletics in Britain is in pressing need of new blood. The era of Linford Christie, Sally Gunnell and Colin Jackson is almost over, and while the highly talented Jonathan Edwards is remarkable, the triple jump will never replace the sprints and middle-distance events in the public's perception of worth-watching athletics. So this summer a lot depends on the runners who are not many birthdays beyond twenty.

At least the often criticised British Athletic Federation have recognised that by selecting 11 athletes who could make their first international appearances at the European Cup in Munich. The problem is that, despite some Lottery money, many of Britain's hopefuls are still struggling financially, not least the most promising of the new generation the 22-year-old Scot Ian Mackie, chosen only for the 4 x 100 metres relay but clearly the man Britain will be expecting to replace Christie as a future Olympic medallist.

The pressure is on him because last August he beat Christie and, this season, he has come within 0.02sec of the British team captain's world best time for 150m. He has also already set a time of 10.17sec for the 100m. Unhappily, Mackie, an Olympic semi-finalist last summer, is one of the athletes who now believe that the promises claiming that Lottery money would adequately fund their careers were overblown. For the moment he is largely dependent on the generosity of his parents. A Lottery grant of pounds 3,950 will barely cover his travelling expenses this year. "Because I'm unemployed I'm even on supplementary benefit and I don't have any savings. How do they think I can get myself ready for the world championships?"

Britain's most surprising international newcomer is Mark Sesay in the 800m, but he has some catching up to do because after being the leading junior six years ago, leg injuries have held him back. Now 24, the Loughborough student who not long ago was working in a burger bar, needs to make rapid progress in a short time. Thanks to the medical people at the University of Alabama, who finally solved his shin splint pain, he has a chance. It takes a lot for the elder statesman of British coaching, George Gandy, to compare a young runner with Coe or Ovett but he says Sesay's ability to go into overdrive with 200 metres to go "reminds me of them both".

The 21-year-old Birchfield runner Richard Knowles, who is in the powerful 4 x 400 metres relay squad, is looking to peak in time for the next Olympics but already this season has set a personal best 400m of 45.84sec which, among the under-23 athletes, puts him close behind the much more experienced Mark Hylton and Guy Bullock. With Roger Black confident after Atlanta and Jamie Baulch in good early-season form, Knowles, a Sheffield University under- graduate studying French, German and Russian, realises that competition is hot.

He has the incentive of wanting to erase from his mind the disappointment of last winter's world indoor championships in Paris when, on his international debut, he was a member of the British relay team that failed to reach the final after another baton-dropping incident. This is the first summer in which he has concentrated on his athletics. Last year he opted instead to spend time in Estonia.

Being named as travelling reserve for the 1,500m, 3,000m and 5,000m is a tribute to the progress of the Cornishman Neil Caddy who is only 22 but has already had to overcome a string of problems. This past winter saw him take on a strenuous cross-country schedule intended to increase his stamina for the track and overcome the difficulties created by several earlier injuries which cost him continuity in training. Even so, last summer he was ranked seventh in the United Kingdom over 1,500m. He admits that the 5,000m is still a little beyond him, so he sees that as his long-term aim - "at least a couple of years away".

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