Oyepitan lone light as British sprinters falter

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The Independent Online

British sprinting encountered the harsh reality of world athletics here last night as Darren Campbell and Christian Malcolm failed to reach today's 200 metres final and Abi Oyepitan finished equal last in the women's 200m final, which was won by Veronica Campbell of Jamaica in 22.05sec.

Oyepitan had already surpassed expectations by becoming the first British woman to reach an Olympic sprint final since Kathy Cook in 1984, but she was never in contention as Campbell was followed home by the 18-year-old US runner Allyson Felix in a world junior record of 22.18sec, with Debbie Ferguson, of the Bahamas, taking bronze in 22.30.

The Briton was unable to reproduce the form that had seen her reduce her personal best to 22.50 in the earlier rounds, but at least by her presence she had ensured that media statements suggesting no British sprinters would reach finals here was, strictly speaking, incorrect.

"I was more fatigued than I thought I would be but I can work on that,' said Oyepitan. "There has been nothing quite like this and hopefully next year in the World Championships I can be even stronger."

No one would have thought a year ago, or even a month ago, that the 24-year-old Shaftesbury Barnet Harrier would be the only UK athlete to make a sprint final here. But her male counterparts have been ravaged by illness or injury in their preparations for these Games. It is fair to say the sprint relay hopes are looking fragile.

Darren Campbell was clearly labouring because of the hamstring injury he suffered a week before the track and field programme got underway, finishing last in 20.89 in a race won easily by Shawn Crawford of the United States in 20.05.

Afterwards, the 2000 Olympic silver medallist reacted strongly to criticism of the British sprinters' preparation made on BBC TV by Colin Jackson and Michael Johnson.

"To be ridiculed like that is disgraceful," he said. "I tore my hamstring but I don't know how to give up. If they want to see the scans they can ­ I don't lie and I don't quit. I spoke to my girlfriend after the first round of the 200m and I was in tears on my bed, and she told me to come home, but I thought I would try the second round, and I made it through to the semis.

"I have been having treatment from 8.30am until 12.30am just to get me on the track and it is only thanks to the medical team that I was out there today. I was hoping to make this my last championships but after a bad Games I cannot leave it like that. I am going to have to re-think and come back in four years."

Malcolm, who had to spend five days in hospital with kidney failure before travelling to Athens, had also done as much as could be expected of him in the circumstances by reaching this stage, and his exit was just as predictable. He finished seventh in 20.77sec.

Allen Johnson, the world 110m hurdles champion, brought his illustrious Olympic career to a crashing conclusion after stumbling on the penultimate barrier in his heat and diving through the last one like a performing dog.

The former Olympic champion, who has also won five world titles in the last nine years, remained prostrate on the track in contemplation of his unfortunate fate, although he looked as if he was struggling to qualify after hitting three previous hurdles. Johnson clattered his way to gold in Atlanta in 1996, running through rather than over most of the barriers. But at 33 he must soon acknowledge an unavoidable truth ­ every dog has his day.

Fani Halkia delivered the Greek nation their Cathy Freeman moment, rising to home expectation and delivering track gold just as the Australian did at the Sydney Games.

Halkia won the 400m hurdles in 52.82sec after pulling away over the final 30 metres from a field which included the desperately struggling world champion, Jana Pittman. The Australian was competing just 17 days after a knee operation after which she was offered only a one per cent chance of reaching the Games by her surgeon. She finished fifth after flagging in the home straight. The packed 70,000 crowd, meanwhile, were flagging madly in their own blue and white fashion.

Halkia's rapid improvement this season ­ she began with a best of 56.40sec ­ raised numerous media queries after her race, but she responded by saying the last winter had been her first injury-free training period since 1998.

Earlier in the evening, the Games were assured of their climactic Olympic confrontation as Kenenisa Bekele and Hicham El Guerrouj, champions here already, made certain of their progress to Saturday's 5,000 metres final, where the Ethiopian's immoveable power and the Moroccan's irresistible acceleration are set to meet in earnest.