The superheroes of track and field are getting ready to take on the world in Birmingham – those who have qualified, at any rate. Batman was at the National Indoor Arena yesterday, and he was fairly flying around the tightly-banked 200m track. The presence of Australia's Daniel Batman in the heats and semi-finals of the men's 400m on the opening day of the Norwich Union AAA indoor championships was a sure sign that athletes around the globe are homing in on the world indoor championships, which start in the Birmingham arena a week on Friday.
It was also a reminder that the best of the Brits might not have it all their own way on home ground. Not that all of the very best of Brits will be there in a fortnight. AsBatman surged through to today's final, displaying form that could scupper Daniel Caines' defence of the world indoor crown in his home city, the British Superman of the track crashed down to earth in a meeting that doubles as the domestic trials. Dwain Chambers has been talking the talk since his blistering outdoor season last summer, when he won the European 100m title and equalled Linford Christie's European record.
He launched into the indoor season with bold predictions of record times but when it came to the high-speed crunch yesterday the Belgrave Harrier couldn't quite sprint the sprint. The European male athlete of 2002 fell 0.01sec short of a qualifying place in the British team for the world indoor championships.
By the thickness of his vest, Chambers was beaten on the dip to the line in the 60m final by the young pretender, Mark Lewis-Francis. He crossed the line in 6.59sec, 0.01sec behind the 20-year-old West Midlander who won a bronze medal at the last world indoor championships in Lisbon two years ago.
With only two places available in each event in the British team and Jason Gardener sitting at home in Bath resting on the laurels of two 6.49sec clockings, Chambers had been edged out of the selection equation. His disappointment was obvious as he stormed out of the arena, ripping off his number and his vest and keeping his thoughts securely to himself.
In contrast, Lewis-Francis could hardly contain his euphoria. A native of Darlaston, just five miles up the A34, and a member of Birmingham's Birchfield Harriers, he said: "It means so much to know I'll be running in the world indoor championships here. I had my doubts that I'd do it, because I've not had a good indoor season. But I know I rise to the big occasions."
He certainly did that yesterday. Chambers has always struggled to translate his outdoor 100m form into the blitzkrieg world of indoor 60m racing and as he left to lick his wounds the north Londoner had no sympathy from his victor on the selection front. "Jason deserves that spot," Lewis-Francis said. "He's been running well all season."
The same can be said of Caines. A Birchfield club-mate of Lewis-Francis, he boasts the fastest indoor time in the world this year, 45.76sec. Batman, however, ran quicker outdoors in Canberra last weekend – 45.02sec – and the 21-year-old looks likely to pose a serious threat to the Brummie who will be defending the world indoor crown in his home city in a fortnight. Caines was at home in Solihull yesterday, nursing a sore hamstring, and in his absence the muscular Batman made his presence felt. A former Australian schools rugby union centre, Batman powered to victory in his heat in 46.77sec and later won his semi-final in 46.40sec, breaking Darren Clark's 10-year-old Australian indoor record by 0.05sec.
It was a more than satisfactory day's work for the Melbournian, in the wake of his long-haul trip on Thursday. "I just want to get used to running on this track," Batman said. "It's disappointing that Daniel Caines isn't here. I'll just have to race Jamie instead."
Or perhaps not. Jamie Baulch, whose world indoor title Caines took in Lisbon two year ago, won the second heat of the day in 47.09sec but was then disqualified for running on the inside line of his lane. Still, whatever the strength of the domestic opposition, Batman can be expected to go quicker in the final today. It remains to be seen whether he will truly live up to his name, and to the Batman logo tattooed on his right arm. The family stock he actually belongs to is not that of Bruce Wayne but of John Batman, who happens to be a prominent figure in Australian history. John Batman was the only native-born Australian to found a state capital, Melbourne. His father was a cutler from Middlesex who was transported to Botany Bay for handling stolen gunpowder.
Daniel, a direct descendant, was born in Melbourne but has settled in Canberra with Nova Peris, the multi-talented sportswoman who beat Cathy Freeman to the distinction of becoming the first Aborigine to win an Olympic gold medal, as a member of the victorious Australian women's hockey team in Atlanta in 1996, and who then became an international sprinter and training partner of Freeman. She succeeded Freeman as Commonwealth 200m champion in 1998 and ran in the 400m heats and semi-finals at the Sydney Olympics. The couple have a young child called Destiny.
As for the destiny of the world indoor 400m title, that could just as well go to Canberra as Solihull.
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