Davies the link with Olympics ancient and modern

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The Independent Online

As Samaranch acknowledged on his trip to A E Housman country: "Much Wenlock was where the modern Olympics really started." The quaint country town, set in the Shropshire hills, staged a revived version of the ancient Olympic Games in 1850 - 46 years before Pierre de Coubertin did so in Athens. The French baron managed to create his event on a grander stage, but it was Dr William Penny Brookes, a doctor-cum-philanthropist from Much Wenlock, who first campaigned for an international Olympic Games. It was only after visiting the Wenlock Olympian Games, which are still held annually, and meeting the good Dr Brookes that De Coubertin was inspired to take up the cause.

Davies - a Shropshire lad, from the village of Eaton Constantine - was educated at William Brookes School in Much Wenlock and nurtured in the town's proud Olympian tradition. "It was definitely an inspiration," he reflected. "There's a lot of history there and you get to know all about it. There's a Wenlock Olympian Society and the Wenlock Olympians, which is an athletics club mainly for juniors. That's where I started off, before moving on to Telford Athletics Club.

"There's a big school fun run each year which goes through the town centre and my aim was to be the first in my year. I trained for a year for that and actually won it - I beat the whole school, not just my year. That was a big encouragement for me. I also ran in the Olympian Games a few times. I won the 800m as an under-17.

"The Olympic link was a big part of our school. My sister, Sian, got to visit the Olympic Museum in Lausanne and went on a trip to see Pierre de Coubertin's house. And when Juan Antonio Samaranch came to the school there were five of us presented to him who had been to the English schools' championships that year. He gave us all an Olympic key-ring.

"I was also presented to the Queen when she came to see the Olympian Games two years ago. That was good. She'd heard all about the history and wanted to see the Games in action."

The 2005 Wenlock Olympian Games open on Friday and continue until Monday. The track and field programme attracts mainly juniors and locals. It takes place on Sunday at the Linden Field - a timeless Shropshire setting, bordered by a windmill, an avenue of elms and "the blue remembered hills" of Housman's poetic recall. On this occasion, Davies is unlikely to be in attendance.

All being well, he intends to be in Manchester instead, for another great British sporting event which dates back to the 1800s: the AAA Championships, or the Norwich Union World and Commonwealth Trials and AAA Championships, to use the official title of the 2005 meeting. Davies is entered for the 5,000m and the 1500m, though his participation depends on the repair of the damage done when he made a late decision to race in spikes rather than flat-soled shoes on his track debut for the senior Great Britain team in Florence.

Davies finished seventh in the European Cup 5,000m race, suffering from badly bruised feet and a torn calf muscle. "At the moment I can only run 20 minutes a day and I'm not sure whether I'll be able to race next weekend," he said. "If I do, it'll be in the 5,000m. I could do with another one to get me in shape for the Crystal Palace meeting, which is two weeks later."

The 5,000m in the Norwich Union London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace on 22 July is Davies' big chance to achieve the Welsh qualifying time for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in March, his national allegiance having always been with the land of his mother. He needs to beat 13min 40sec to come under consideration for a place in the Welsh track and field team for Melbourne and it is within his capability. Last summer, Davies - who is coached by his father, Terry - ran a lifetime best of 13 min 38.95sec. He also had a bold shot at the Olympic qualifying time, 13:21.50, at the British trials in Manchester, chasing the clock out in front on his own before cracking under the strain and finishing third.

If nothing else, it showed the spirit of a latter-day Alf Tupper character who fits in his training after rising at 5am each day to embark on his five-mile round as a postman. And last month Davies was back in Manchester, delivering evidence of his potential at the highest level. Finishing fifth against international opposition in the Bupa Great Manchester 10km Run, he took the scalp of Stefano Baldini. The Wenlock Olympian was 16 seconds quicker than the Italian Olympic marathon champion.

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