Sally gung-ho as she hands baton to Batten

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The Independent Online
"OOOH, my goodness! It's massive! It's absolutely huge! There's going to be a big smile on this lady's face." Seven days into the World Athletics Championships in Gothenburg, and no signs of flagging enthusiasm from the BBC commentary team, whose remarks are consistently keen and richly descriptive, though you really need the pictures to make complete sense of it all. (That was the women's triple jump Stuart Storey was talking about.)

Runners, though, have been losing their way a little. First Gwen Torrence was disqualified for straying into an adjacent lane in the 200 metres. Then Maria Mutola did exactly the same in the 800m. As David Moorcroft wisely pointed out, "rules are rules" and, as he went on to explain, the one offended against here is Rule 141 on lane discipline, not to mention several pages of the Highway Code.

Among those still managing to run in a straight line is the man they're all calling "that man Michael Johnson". Day Six belonged to him. But then so did most of the other days, as the American sprinter hoovered up first places and medals like someone with a metal detector, only much faster. The remarkable thing about Johnson is that he effortlessly achieves such speed while wearing a gold necklace thick enough to pass in many British towns for a mayor's chain of office. We know he's going to win, but does this justify letting him wear the medal during the race?

Day Seven, meanwhile, belonged to a non-competitor. If you were the world- record holder in the 400m hurdles and an injury had deprived you of your opportunity to defend your title, there are any number of vantage points from which you might choose to watch the televising of the event. In the privacy of your own home, perhaps. Or maybe in some darkened bar in downtown Gothenburg, over a string of whisky sours, with Frank singing something slow and moody on the jukebox. The place you probably wouldn't choose would be the BBC's commentary box, with a microphone open in front of you. Unless, that is, you are Sally Gunnell.

As Kim Batten smashed Gunnell's world record and stole her crown, Gunnell was positively breathless with pleasure for her. "Unbelievable!" she shouted. Seconds later, she was down on the track. "Kim, I just want to say . . ." The conversation could have gone any way at this point. For instance: "Kim, I just want to say that I am sick to the pit of my stomach." Actually, Gunnell said: "That was unbelievable." The interview which followed was mostly mutual screaming and laughing. Gunnell was so excited, she couldn't hold the microphone straight: she was flinging it all over the place until the arm of a technician reached into shot to twist it into the vicinity of Batten's mouth.

That evening on the highlights show, Gunnell talked smilingly about how the race had rekindled her determination, how she couldn't wait to get back into training. Confronted by shifts of fortune far less significant, many of us would have been planning on a good half-year of solid sulking, followed by a month or two of plain bitterness, dispersing into a low- level grudge of indeterminable duration.

On Day Seven, that man Sergei Bubka, the Ukrainian pole-vaulter, won his fifth consecutive world championship, thereby becoming a record holder of records. The television coverage really splashed out for this one, positioning a camera up high beside the bar and training another on his family in the stands. Storey pointed out "his wife Vitalia''. He added: "I'm sure the sons, Sergei and Vitalia, are here too."

"When I won first won is not so big pressure like now," explained Sergei afterwards. "Now when I come into the stadium, I don't have to miss one attempt, I don't have everybody looks for me and my competitors has good motivation, but I'm a little different situation." "We know exactly what he means," Des Lynam said back in the studio.

Looking set to defeat the World and Commonwealth Eccentricity Records is the Kenyan steeplechaser Christopher Koskei, to whom Des referred as "that man who runs barefoot". Having seen the British runner Alison Wyeth limp off in agony, her heel sliced accidentally by the spiked shoes of a runner on her tail, I wouldn't step out there in anything less than hobnail boots. An obstacle course of thick fencing and water splashes, the steeplechase is effectively a horse-race for which the runners have forgotten to pack a horse. Koskei's other new slant is a hurdling style which involves approaching the barrier side-on and almost flipping himself over. "Goodness knows what he's going to do if anybody teaches him to hurdle," David Coleman said. And goodness knows what he's going to do if anybody gives him a horse.

"His hurdling is not textbook," Brendan Foster confirmed. "I don't suggest anyone at home practises hurdling like that." Sound warning, though I'm not sure how many of us at home really were thinking about our hurdling techniques at this point. We were still busy trying to master the pole vault.

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