Speed skating: Gooch finishes with a golden double

Nicky Gooch is primed and ready to launch himself at Olympic glory in Nagano next month.

The British champion shot back to form at the European short track championships in Budapest yesterday, winning the 1,000 metre title and playing the crucial anchor role in Britain's triumphant relay team.

Gooch has been laid low with a viral infection for the past fortnight and had to summon all his efforts just to make it to the start line.

"I felt very tired this morning and am surprised I did so well," he said. "I'm on the road to recovery and all the aspects of my skating I wanted in place before the games are there. There are two weeks to go before I race and I am raring to get into my training."

Gooch's victory was all the sweeter for coming in the 1,000 metres, one of only two Olympic distances.

"If I chose to win a distance this would be it," he admitted. "My tactics were spot on and my time was good as well."

Gooch's championship had got off to a bad start on Saturday when he was disqualified in the quarter-finals of the 500m.

The British No 1 had twice been close to beating the world sprint record during the heats and started the quarter-final from the ideal outside draw. Despite his advantage, he made an awful start and allowed his rivals to streak away. Gooch tried in vain to catch up but was disqualified for pushing. He then saw his Dutch rival, Dave Verstegg, win gold in a world record time.

Debbie Palmer was also among the honours yesterday, finishing second in the 3,000m to push herself up to fifth in the overall classification.

Palmer failed to qualify for next month's Olympics and considered retiring after seven seasons among the world elite.

"Everyone is talking about Nagano and yet I won't be going. I've been very down this week but I feel a lot better after today," Palmer said. "Missing the games was the biggest blow in my career and I still have not quite come to terms with it.

"Like Nicky, I've been suffering with a heavy cold, so to finish second was a great result."

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