Rich pickings belie poor investment

However inadequate their funding, Mike Rowbottom says British athletes' achievements in Gothenburg were good value
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The Independent Online
Britain's national coach, Malcolm Arnold, is seeking "a radical change of attitude" in funding so the sport can prepare properly for next year's Olympics and put a new coaching system in place ahead of Britain's likely bid for the 2001 World Championships.

Arnold is appealing for the current capital spending which is being provided by the National Lottery to be extended to revenue spending, a method which is used to finance sport in many other countries.

"Four million pounds a year would allow a model for coaching and development to be put into place which would ensure success into the next century," he said in a statement. "If Britain is to host the World Championships in 2001, now is the time to begin preparation of a team Britain can be proud of."

Despite its relative paucity of financial resources, the British team finished the nine days of competition here with good reasons to be proud.

With all three of its world champions from 1993 - Sally Gunnell, Linford Christie and Colin Jackson - effectively out of action because of injuries, there was an obligation on the second rank of Britain's athletes to respond. Jonathan Edwards hurled himself into the history books with the first legal 18 metres triple jump for Britain's only gold, and Steve Backley emphasised his battle-hardened status in taking the javelin silver.

Kelly Holmes had to be content with bronze and silver from her 800/1500m double, while Tony Jarrett added silver in the 110m hurdles. There were also displays of great promise from Peter Whitehead, who finished fourth in the marathon, and Paula Radcliffe, who emphasised her potential at 21 with fifth place in the 5,000m, which, like all the women's distance events, was conspicuously lacking in the Chinese runners who took the world apart in 1993.

Christie now ponders on what remains for him this season as he attempts to recover from hamstring and cartilage injuries. Gunnell, who saw her 400m hurdles world record beaten, must gather herself for an attempt to restore her standing in Olympic year.

Jackson's was the most frustrating absence from Gothenburg. As his race in Switzerland on the day of the 110m hurdles demonstrated, he was fit to run in the Championships. His position is that he would have run at the World Championships had he not been faced with an early deadline to prove his fitness. More than one observer has suggested, though, that he never felt sufficiently sure of his fitness to retain his title.

Malcolm also stressed the importance of new funding in the run-up to next year's Olympics, something required to get Britain on an equal footing with other countries.

Had such a level of funding been in place after the last World Championships, Britain might have had a second gold medallist along with Edwards. The achievement of the former British athlete Fiona May, who won the long jump for Italy after switching nationality because she was getting too little financial support, may yet prove beneficial for Britain.

It provided Arnold and Co with a dramatic example of the importance of proper funding. May was offered a grant of pounds 500 by the British federation in 1993. Her annual training grant in Italy has been pounds 8,000.

And yet the link between investment and performance is not automatic. At these championships, Germany, which had an annual coaching budget of more than pounds 3m this year - nearly six times the British level - produced a level of performance that was far from six times better than Britain's.

One of the most surprising of Britain's high achievers, Whitehead, gave his own demonstration that government funding is not everything. He came to Gothenburg having trained at altitude for nine months in Albuquerque on a trip that was initially funded by his wife Sandra, who works in a Leeds bank, and his mother, Dorothy.

Although he is now financing himself, having become established on the US road racing circuit, his chances of achieving a major championship medal would be greatly enhanced by assistance such as Portugal and Spain's marathon runners receive. It might also help pay for the numerous faxes which he uses to keep in touch with his wife between her visits to the States.

The 1995 World Championships lacked the intensity of the 1993 event in Stuttgart, partly as a result of the decision not to break the programme with a rest day. Yet they were a far friendlier and more intimate championships, blessed by perfect weather. Blessed, too, by images to remember.

Michael Johnson's achievement in becoming the first man to win the 200 and 400m double at this event is something which he is patently anxious to replicate at next year's Atlanta Olympics.

As he made a point of saying after his 200m win, such a performance would help to raise the profile of the sport in the United States at a time when it is in danger of dipping. As he did not need to point out, a historic double on coast-to-coast television would probably be the final requirement to lift him into the Carl Lewis category as an American sporting hero.

But as things stand, the Olympic schedule requires him to run the 200m semi-final and the 400m final on the same day. "If he wants to run backwards he could still do it," said Primo Nebiolo, the International Amateur Athletic Federation's president. Johnson himself is not so certain.

Ana Fidelia Quirot's achievement in winning the 800m title only years after suffering near fatal burns - and the single tear that rolled down her cheek at the medal ceremony - has already become the stuff of legend. History will record that her victory occurred in the absence of the race favourite, Maria Mutola of Mozambique, who was disqualified in the heats. But in Cuba, where Quirot is the favourite not just of the people but of the leader whom she is named after, Fidel Castro, they will never believe that she would not have prevailed against the challenge of the 1993 champion.

n Steve Backley will compete for Britain in the Bupa Challenge against the USA at Gateshead on 21 August.


Year Event Gold Silver Bronze Tot

1983 WC 2 2 3 7

1984 OG 3 7 6 16

1987 WC 1 3 4 8

1988 OG 0 6 2 8

1991 WC 2 2 3 7

1992 OG 2 0 2 4

1993 WC 3 3 4 10

1995 WC 1 3 1 5

OG Olympic Games

WC World Championships