Simplicity is key for Backley

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The Independent Online
Steve Backley demonstrated once again yesterday that when it comes to major championships, he is the genuine article. Thinking on his feet, as much as physical effort, brought him the world silver medal here as he changed his tactics and produced a last throw of 86.30 metres which was bettered only by Jan Zelezny, the Olympic and world champion.

The Czech also saved his best until last, recording 89.58m to complete a full sequence of six throws which demonstrated his pre-eminence in world javelin throwing.

But Backley, who retained his European and Commonwealth titles last year after recovering from debilitating injuries, could be proud of his resilience in collecting Britain's fifth and final medal of the championships.

His plan had always been to unsettle his rivals with a big throw in the first round. It has worked in the past, but it simply did not happen for him yesterday. With only three throws remaining, he showed the experience which he has gained in the last six years of competition by deciding to ignore the markers he had set out for himself on the approach run.

The tactic had worked for him at the previous year's European Championships. It worked again as he overhauled Boris Henry, of Germany, to go second.

"Everyone was trying too hard in the first three rounds," he said. "I reduced the throwing to its simplest form. When you make things simple you get good results. When it is complicated, things fall apart."

Backley's first effort after his change of heart sailed out to what looked like 85 metres-plus territory, but he took one fateful step too far and fouled out, staring down in horror at his foot as if it were something alien.

His fifth effort of 84.92 took him to within 24cm of Henry in the silver position. His final throw surpassed the German, who responded with 86.08 to consolidate his third place.

It was not just a triumph for Backley, but also for his coach, John Trower, and the South African, Dr Ron Holder, who has corrected the imbalance in Backley's body that has caused many of his injury problems by building up the insoles of his shoes with differently calculated layers of thin paper. Yellow paper. Yellow Pages, in fact. If the BT marketing men know what's good news, they should be on the phone immediately. Backley's training partner, Mick Hill, had a relatively unhappy time, finishing in sixth place with 81.06.

Noureddine Morceli, of Algeria, re-emphasised his supremacy in middle distance running as he retained his 1500m title in 3min 33.73sec. As the group bunched going into the final lap, it was simply a matter of waiting for the multiple world record holder to make his move. When he did so, the field stretched out almost instantaneously into a long line. As the Algerian's stick-like arms and legs took up their familiar action, even an athlete as talented as Venuste Niyongabo, of Burundi, who has a 3:30.78 to his credit this season, looked ordinary in comparison. The 21-year- old from Burundi may be the man to beat Morceli one day. Hicham El Guerrouj, also 21, who came through for silver, may also have a chance. But both will have to wait.

Ismail Kirui, of Kenya, retained his 5,000m title with a display of front- running as audacious as that which brought him the gold in 1993. As he entered the straight, four others had got within striking distance, and all five hared madly for the line. Kirui reached home first, in 13min 16.77sec. It will be fascinating to see how he fares now against the Ethiopian whom he beat two years ago, Haile Gebresilassie, who won the 10,000m here but chose not to double up.

In the men's 400m relay, the United States predictably cleaned up as Michael Johnson anchored them home in 2: 57.32, the second fastest time in history to bring the United States' total of golds to 12. Britain, who might have had a chance of a medal, finished fifth in 3.03.75. Roger Black returned to run the final leg, but Mark Richardson, fifth in the individual final, had to drop out because of tonsillitis.

Gwen Torrence, denied the individual sprint double after being disqualified for running out of her lane in the 200m final, anchored the United States to victory in the 4x100m relay. Torrence inherited a lead and maintained it despite the efforts of Merlene Ottey, who inherited her gold medal when she was ruled out. After Ottey's comments that Torrence had cheated in the 200m, the win clearly had an additional resonance for the American.

In the men's sprint relay, which lacked the United States after their failure to exchange the baton in Saturday's first round, Canada emphasised their position as the new kids on the blocks by winning in a time of 38.30, led home by the individual champion, Donovan Bailey. The Swedish quartet, curiously, decided to take a lap of honour even though they were disqualified. They were warmly applauded by a home crowd presumably thankful that they had managed to make the final.