World Athletics Championship: British elite need star treatment: Coaches look to consolidate on success in Stuttgart. Mike Rowbottom reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
TEN medals. Three gold. Fourth in the medals table. Britain has never done so well in the World Championships. Now comes the question of how to consolidate that success.

'There has never been a better time to focus our attentions on how we look after our elite,' said Frank Dick, Britain's director of coaching, who will start doing just that after these championships as part of his new role within British athletics. After years of being known as a nation of harriers, Britain has now become a nation of sprinters. All seven medals won on the track here came at distances of 400 metres or under.

Linford Christie has expunged any lingering doubts about whether he was the best 100m runner in the world; Sally Gunnell has consolidated her No 1 position in 400m hurdling this season; Colin Jackson has answered those who doubted his ability to deliver on the really big occasion by setting a 110m hurdles record that only he looks capable of breaking in the foreseeable future.

These are Britain's elite, who have and will continue to receive the best possible treatment from their home federation. But Dick sees a need to ensure that a wider spread of British athletes receives financial help, and that will necessarily include middle- and long-distance runners who are unable to earn as much money as sprinters on the grand prix circuit simply because they require more recovery time.

'We have got to start looking at having contracts for athletes,' he said. 'Why should athletes charge around Europe trying to gain prize-money and earn a living and then find themselves injured by the time it comes to major championships?'

And there are plenty of those next season for British athletes - Commonwealth Games, European Championships, World and European Cups.

Dick foresees a total of around 60 athletes - perhaps 12 to 15 elite, some potential top-12 finishers, some promising juniors - being established on contracts and salaries which will provide them with enough of a living to ensure they have no need to compete unwisely. He talks of a possible budget of pounds 1m a year.

But clearly the whole area is fraught with problems. It is not clear how, for instance, Dick will bring into his framework athletes such as Christie and Jackson, who are managed by the man from whom Dick is taking over responsibility for arranging athletes' programmes, the British promotions officer, Andy Norman. 'I will have to talk to the coaches and agents involved with athletes,' he said. 'If we are not collectively singing from the same hymn sheet, we are going nowhere.'

The reaction of the crowd to the Chinese victory in Sunday night's 1500m final, a result which brought them their fourth gold of the championships and left them second behind the United States in the final medal table, said much about the climate of suspicion their success has engendered. When Dong Liu ran her lap of honour, there was as much whistling as clapping.

The Chinese have denied that there is any systematic misuse of drugs in their country such as the one which prevailed in many eastern bloc nations until the political upheaval at the end of the 1980s. But on the evidence of these championships, questions are going to have to be asked of them more persistently - if only to clear athletes of unjustified suspicion.

In the past three years, there have been four visits to the People's Republic by random drug-testing officers from the International Amateur Athletic Federation. Eight Chinese athletes have tested positive in that time, some after testing by their own federation.

But would-be testers face a potential problem in identifying or even locating Chinese athletes in a country where Westerners - especially those on flying visits - are at a disadvantage when it comes to finding their way around. One answer is to widen the pool of testing officers to embrace a wider variety of cultures.

Another potentially helpful innovation is being considered by Professor Peter Radford, the chairman of the British Athletic Federation, who intends to make an informal approach to the IAAF to discuss the use of fingerprinting in conjunction with testing. 'Such a positive move is required so that no doubt can be cast on the veracity of the tests,' Radford said. 'Otherwise the world-wide credibility of the drug-testing programme will be compromised.'

Liz McColgan, who missed the World Championships with a hamstring injury, watched the Chinese performance in the women's middle distance events with interest. 'People turn up at my door and demand a sample on the spot. That's fine by me - but not if the system is failing in other countries,' she said.

'If athletics can't get it under control then people like Yvonne Murray and myself and many others will stop competing at major championships because drug cheats are there. We will concentrate on the grand prix circuit.'

For all the success of these championships, the worry for the IAAF must be that more athletes may stay away in Gothenburg two years hence, if only because there is no prize-money. Whether they will risk the possibility of a boycott in future is an open question. Carl Lewis called these World Championships the last without prize-money.

In his press conference yesterday, Primo Nebiolo, the IAAF president, while denying that any athlete had demanded money for starting in Stuttgart, indicated some willingness to talk about prize-money. 'We shall include all matters of concern of our athletes in our thoughts,' he said.

Nebiolo's presentation of a 400m relay gold medal - and a kiss on each cheek - to a bemused Butch Reynolds, who is still seeking dollars 27m (pounds 18m) in damages from the IAAF following his two-year drug suspension, was one of the most excruciating moments of the championships.

----------------------------------------------------------------- BRITAIN'S ROLL OF HONOUR ----------------------------------------------------------------- GOLD Linford Christie . . . . . . .(100m) Sally Gunnell . . . . . . . . (400m hurdles) Colin Jackson . . . . . . . . (110m hurdles) SILVER Tony Jarrett . . . . . . . . .(110m hurdles) John Regis . . . . . . . . . .(200m) Men's 4 x 100m relay (Jackson, Jarrett, Regis, Christie) BRONZE Jon Edwards . . . . . . . . . (triple jump) Mick Hill . . . . . . . . . . (javelin) Steve Smith . . . . . . . . . (high jump) Women's 4 x 400m relay (Linda Keough, Phylis Smith, Tracy Goddard, Gunnell) -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)