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Student Sport: Britons finding graduation tough at World Games

AFTER 10 days of competition, of toil, sweat, tears and some blood, the British team was still waiting for its first gold medal of the 20th World Student Games here. Clearly, the messages are that the competitions here are by no means second rate and that if you have the ability to be a world student champion, the chances are that come next September you will be up there when the medals are handed out at the Sydney Olympics.

Take Chris Rawlinson, for example. The Loughborough University student, aged 27, has always been there or thereabouts for the British team at 400 metres hurdles without ever really making a breakthrough at international level.

Until Monday, that was. Rawlinson, in the final here in in the Son Moix stadium, clocked 48.88sec, nearly a second faster than he had ever run before he came to Palma. It ranks him fifth on the British all-time list, behind such giants as Kriss Akabusi, David Hemery, Alan Pascoe and Jon Ridgeon.

John Sherwood - who, in taking the Olympic bronze behind Hemery in Mexico City 31 years ago, caused embarrassment when David Coleman famously uttered: "Who cares who's third?" - never ran as fast as Rawlinson managed here. Obviously time - and times - have moved on, yet so tough is the competition in Palma, Rawlinson finished fifth in the final. Who cares who's fifth?

Coming just a year before the Olympics, the Germans have insisted that their hopefuls for Sydney get a taste of a multi-sports Games by competing here. The Americans have adopted a different approach, using the Universiade to blood athletes on the fringe of their national squad.

Britain seems to have fallen between stools. Swimming was among the weaker sports here, but Britain's best student swimmers stayed behind to contest last weekend's national championships in Sheffield rather than risk non- selection for the European Championships at the end of the month.

The athletes have had a more enlightened approach, competing here if it suits their individual plan. As Diane Allahgreen said, after winning the bronze medal in the 100m hurdles: "It has really set up my season."