Campbell's taunt to Jackson and critics: 'I've got a gold'

The words were uttered by Darren Campbell with a smugness that bordered on downright insolence. Yet could you blame him for that indulgence at the remarkable finale of a week which has been too often tainted by dissent among the male track brotherhood? "I've got one message for Colin Jackson," the Great Britain team captain declared. "I've got a gold medal."

The words were uttered by Darren Campbell with a smugness that bordered on downright insolence. Yet could you blame him for that indulgence at the remarkable finale of a week which has been too often tainted by dissent among the male track brotherhood? "I've got one message for Colin Jackson," the Great Britain team captain declared. "I've got a gold medal."

The item he referred to, of course, was an Olympic gold for the 4 x 100m relay, the product of a superbly resourceful, tenacious series of legs run by Campbell and his team-mates, Jason Gardener, Marlon Devonish and Mark Lewis-Francis. They were men driven as much by the words denigrating them as the physical challenge of the USA quartet.

It all culminated in a thrilling drive to the line in which Lewis-Francis maintained the narrowest of advantages, despite the looming presence of Maurice Greene bearing down on him. The reward for victory was one that could not have been more piquant for those involved: an Olympic gold, something Jackson never secured in his otherwise distinguished career.

Earlier in the week, Jackson had succeeded in grievously wounding Campbell by suggesting, in his Independent column, that all Great Britain's male athletes had collected here was "a locker room of injuries" and demanding to know "just where are all the medals?" And there was worse, as the former world-champion hurdler maintained: "We can say with reasonable confidence that there are no medals coming from Darren's 200m event, or the relays." Jackson was proved correct about the 200m. Nobody imagined, for a second, that he would get it so wrong about these athletes who individually may have under-achieved but together fused into an irresistible combination. In doing so, they became the first British sprint relay team since 1912 to triumph in a global championships.

Whether there was an element of sheer provocation for effect, or telling it precisely as the retired world champion hurdler, television pundit and columnist viewed it, his words could not have galvanised the men who have been the butt of his criticism any better.

The quartet prevailed by only one hundredth of a second, barely a vest's thickness, as Lewis-Francis ducked on the line to repel Greene. Yet, it was sufficient to provide the most gratifying of responses to critics of the Britain's male sprinters, who had included not only Jackson but his fellow BBC pundit Michael Johnson, with whom Campbell had been involved in a confrontation in an Athens nightclub over his televised observations.

Jackson and Johnson very definitely had a point - until last night. This was the first Olympics in which Britain had not had a representative in the 100m final since 1980. Somewhat embarrassingly, the country had no presence in the 200m final either. Yet, the quartet's achievement was more than atonement for that failure. It also compensated for the disappointment of last year's World Championships in Paris when the men won silver but lost their medals because Dwain Chambers tested positive for a banned substance.

It was Gardener who set off on the first leg, but he appeared to be down as he handed the baton on to Campbell. Somehow the Sydney 200m silver medallist, who has complained of a hamstring injury all week, made up ground before passing on to Devonish. The 30-year-old from Manchester produced a phenomenal third leg and the baton change was near-perfect, allowing Lewis-Francis to drive home, leaving the American "dream team" of Shawn Crawford, Justin Gatlin, Coby Miller and Greene utterly bemused.

As Campbell acknowledged, and you could comprehend precisely why: "It has been the most emotionally stressful week of my life."

For the stoic supporters within British enclaves here, it was the most emotionally draining moment of their week. Until last night, their appreciation had been mainly reserved for heptathlete Kelly Sotherton's bronze, and that was about it, really. Apart, of course, from Kelly Holmes.

Indeed, thank heavens for Holmes, in whose honour they raised the Union flag for the second occasion this week, a spectacle which, after Paula Radcliffe's capitulation on Sunday, no one with British affliliations truly expected to witness.

Yet, as we watched that ceremony, with Holmes, draped in the old flag, quivering with the emotion of her moment, we scarcely dared contemplate that it would be repeated. The fact that it was by the relay quartet entitles you to hope and believe that the name of Radcliffe, and her demons, will not be the first words on the lips of anyone with a love for British sport when Athens 2004 is broached in the months and years to come.

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