Ten command performances- Athletics: Dog-tired but dogged in Kuala Lumpur

Ten command performances that lit up 1998
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The Independent Online
IWAN THOMAS had every excuse not to earn the Commonwealth 400 metres title in Kuala Lumpur. In winning his personal battle with his domestic rival Mark Richardson at the previous month's European Championships, the 24-year-old Welshman had established himself as the British No 1.

As such, he was selected for the British team to contest the World Cup in Johannesburg on the eve of the Commonwealth athletics programme.

In South Africa, Thomas performed mightily, winning the individual event at full stretch from Jerome Young of the United States, and putting in maximum effort in the following day's relay despite having to chase a lost cause on the final leg.

Thomas was dog-tired. But, unlike Wales's other European champion, Colin Jackson, he decided to race for his country in an effort to complete an outstanding triple.

Thus he spent 10 hours on an overnight flight from Johannesburg, arriving at Kuala Lumpur in the early hours of Tuesday morning, a day before he had to race in two qualifying rounds.

Little wonder that he decided it was worth investing some of his $50,000 prize money in upgrading his plane ticket.

In the meantime, Richardson, whose early-season win over Olympic champion Michael Johnson in Oslo had established a high level of expectation, had turned down a relay spot in the World Cup to acclimatise himself for Kuala Lumpur.

Defeat in the European final had been, in his own words, his "lowest low" since he started running competitively. He had left Hungary hungry for revenge, and it seemed he would be likely to take advantage of his leg-weary rival.

Thomas, the early part of whose season had been jeopardised by a hamstring injury, looked understandably laboured in negotiating his heats. But as he prepared for the semi-final, he hit a bigger problem - his back seized up.

"I was in tears with the pain and I came close to knocking the Games on the head," said Thomas, who received emergency treatment until four o'clock in the morning on the day of the semi-final. On he went, even finding time to joke in the home straight with his team-mate Jamie Baulch.

As the gun went in the final, the two Britons found themselves the focus of attention, as they had been in Budapest. Arriving in the home straight, Thomas appeared to have a slight lead and a final surge from Richardson seemed inevitable. It came - but Thomas hung on to cross the line eight- tenths of a second ahead of his grimacing rival in 44.52sec. Thomas had claimed his third major title in the space of a month.

"When I came off that last bend my legs felt dead, but everyone else's must have been worse," he said, before paying tribute to the efforts of his coach, Mike Smith, the man who guided the early career of the man whom Thomas succeeded as the British record-holder, Roger Black.

"All winter he makes me run over the sand dunes at Merthyr Mawr and I curse him. He just tells me to sod off."