Macey books Athens place after three years of pain

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Dean Macey last night earned an Olympic decathlon place here in what was his first competitive outing since taking the world bronze medal in August 2001.

Dean Macey last night earned an Olympic decathlon place here in what was his first competitive outing since taking the world bronze medal in August 2001.

Competing with heavy strapping on the hamstring injury which has put his Athens participation in doubt, the 26-year-old Canvey Islander finished with 7,842 points, comfortably clear of the required Olympic B qualifying standard of 7,700pts.

"I'm back," Macey said after his 10-hour day. "They don't call me the Dean Machine for nothing. The score does not reflect the shape I'm in. I felt I left another 400 points on the track, and a score of 8,300 in the Olympics would be a fairy-tale story. I think the gold and silver are probably spoken for, but the bronze meddal could be up for grabs. But I am on cloud nine at the moment. We've done a very professional job."

With Macey due to be added to the British team in the final announcement tomorrow, there was also good news for Denise Lewis. Her chances of defending her Olympic heptathlon title rose dramatically after she fulfilled a vital fitness test here after two days of intensive physiotherapy on the ankle she re-injured at the trials. "If she hadn't won in the next two days, she wouldn't be going to the Olympics,'' Charles van Commenee, UK Athletics' director for multi-events, said. "Now she is back on track.''

Macey appeared relatively relaxed as his form held together under the anxious gaze of his coach, Greg Richards, and a family group including his partner, Lisa, and parents, Alan and Pat. He had begun the second day with a 110 metres hurdles time of 14.88sec, inside his target of 15.2sec.

He then surpassed his aim of 46 metres in the discus, reaching 46.22m with his first throw. The pole vault offered potential technical difficulties, but he comfortably reached his target height of 4.40m. Macey concluded his day with a javelin throw of 55.42m and a 1500m run in 4min 25.56sec.

Macey's analysis of his possibilities in Athens was supported by the calmer reasoning of Van Commenee yesterday, even though he mentioned the general rule that no one jumps from nowhere to a medal in the decathlon. "There is always an exception to the rule," he said, "and if there is an exception here it would be Dean Macey, because of his exceptional competitiveness.

"Although he has been out for almost three years, he has finished in the top four at three major championships, and that tells a lot. Assuming he doesn't suffer any reaction from this weekend over the next 48 hours and assuming he is able to train and continue to get expert medical attention over the next three weeks, he can definitely be in the medal zone."

Van Commenee also questioned Macey's statement that the Olympic gold and silver medal were already spoken for. "Nothing is booked," he said. "There is no athlete on this planet who has been unbeaten. And in the combined events, more than any other, results can be a lot more unexpected."

Macey's decision to relocate, at least for part of the week, from his beloved Canvey Island in order to train and receive medical support in Birmingham was crucial, Van Commenee believed, to his managing to appear at all to compete in Hexham.

"He could not have done a decathlon even a week ago," Van Commenee said. "But working in Birmingham was probably the decisive factor for him. If he had stayed on the island, there is no way he would have been able to do this."

Facing a similar Olympic deadline before the 1992 Games, Britain's then world decathlon record-holder, Daley Thompson, travelled to the chilly Norwegian outpost of Trondheim. Watched by one man and his dog ­ and a small group of optimistic journalists ­ he failed. When his hamstring went in his final chance at Crystal Palace a few days later his Olympic prospects, and indeed his career, were finally over.

As it was for Thompson in Trondheim, it was hard to reconcile the low-key proceedings in the stone-walled enclave of the Tynedale Athletics Park with the urgency of Macey's task.

The car park outside was full by mid-morning ­ but only with shoppers visiting the Safeways store at the back of the stadium's main building. Even the children in the supermarket's creche seemed disinterested, preferring to plunge in their sea of coloured balls rather than watch the Olympian performing just outside their window.

Macey's first day had seen him reach the half-way point around 50 points up on his target, having achieved a score of 4,102 points. Having run 100 metres in 11.43sec, he then produced a single long jump of 7.33m, a single shot-put of 15.18m ­ his second best ever ­ a high jump of 1.95m and, after discarding his tracksuit bottoms to reveal a heavily strapped left thigh, a concluding 400m of 50.47sec.

The caution went against his basic nature. But it kept him in a position to realise the ambition that has been so cruelly frustrated since the summer of 2001 ­ namely to become a competitive athlete once more.