my own goal

THE Olympic and world outdoor sprint champion, whose on-off role in the indoor championships in Barcelona sparked a controversy, remembers the day when his talent for running far exceeded his ability behind the wheel . . .
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The Independent Online
I HAVE got to be careful here because I don't want to give away too much. I'm writing my own book at the moment so you're going to have to wait for some of the best stories. But I'll tell you about a couple of embarrassing moments.

It was awful at the time, but it could have been worse. It was the sort of thing that started out like something you wouldn't think twice about doing and could have ended up in a disaster.

Being in the public eye I get asked to promote all sorts of things. It's often new cars. I get invited to test-drive some of them. Some are very expensive ones but the one I remember I was really interested in. I don't think I had better say who asked me to test-drive this particular car I was keen on at the time but it was a Jeep type of vehicle - four-wheel drive and really impressive - but the point was I suddenly discovered it was a manual.

I'd picked it up from a garage in Wembley and there was a lot of traffic about at the time. I started off down the road OK. Then we came to these traffic lights. There were a couple of cars in front of me so I changed lanes. Then the lights went red but I didn't need to slow down for a moment. I was confident enough. But then I went to put my foot on the brake because in an automatic you only have the brake and the gas. But this was a manual which meant that I put my foot on the clutch thinking it was the brake. I just sat there thinking, hey wait a minute. I was getting closer and closer to the car in front and I couldn't do anything about it. It's not my car. I'm just having a test-drive.

I'm saying, "Help, the brakes don't work." Then we went whack, straight into the car in front. Luckily nobody got hurt and everyone was good about it but it was someone else's car. The publicity! It's no more manuals for me.

But it was your other half, the Independent, that caused me another embarrassment. I was with Colin [Jackson], John [Regis] and Sally [Gunnell]. We were going to a place called Pescara, in Italy, for a grand prix meeting. What a fiasco. To start with the plane was late. We then had a three-hour drive to the hotel which was miles away. Then the next day it was like another couple of hours to the track.

The whole thing was a disaster. We'd spent all this time travelling, then in the event we all got blown away. I thought at the time everybody had beaten me. I think I got fourth. Colin got beaten and I seem to remember that Sally fell over, and John was way out somewhere. It was terrible. The thing was where we were staying was just down the road from a lot of the holiday beaches where some people assumed we had been enjoying ourselves too much. The Independent the next day said we should have stayed playing with our buckets and spades. Cruel.

I recall at that same meeting they were giving away free drinks at a reception we went to and I remember thinking, this tastes funny. I looked at the sell-by date. It was about two years out of date. It's funny, you remember things like that almost as much as the races themselves and in a few years I'll remember the little things more than those that have been going on this week in Barcelona.

There's been a lot of other embarrassing moments. Giving a specimen for the dope test . . . well, I'm not going to tell anyone about funny experiences over that, not until the book comes out later this year.