Britain slipped off the gold standard at the European Championships last night as Jonathan Edwards endured the novel sensation of losing in a major triple jump competition. It was not one he enjoyed.
But at least the 36-year-old Gateshead Harrier came away with a something from a competition won by Sweden's rising talent Christian Olsson, adding a fourth bronze medal to the ones Britain had collected earlier in the evening through Daniel Caines in the men's 400 metres, Kelly Holmes in the women's 800m and Lee McConnell in the women's 400m.
For his British team-mate Phillips Idowu, who had registered the second-longest qualifying distance in the event's history, 17.54 metres, the night ended in frustration as he struggled with his technique and only 16.92 to finish fifth.
Edwards, who came into this competition with a bruised heel, made a supreme effort with his final attempt and it looked as if it might have been long enough to have earned him a dramatic victory until the judge raised his red flag. The man who came to this event as Olympic, world, Commonwealth and European champion had put his toe a centimetre and a half over the line.
Once the result became clear, the 22-year-old from Gothenburg performed a madly exuberant lap of honour. Without reaching Edwards' best of 17.86 this season, the young Swede consistently showed the sound technique that had eluded Idowu and won with 17.53. The home jumper Charles Friedek, who beat Edwards to the 1999 world title, took silver with 17.33, a centimetre ahead of the Briton.
"I can't believe I jumped so poorly," Edwards said. "If someone had said you are going to jump 17.32 in the Europeans I would have said: 'What, do you mean in qualifying?' But this doesn't make any difference to my plans. I won't be making any decision about retiring until the end of the season. I still feel I've got an 18 metres jump in me this season. I'd like to do that because I'd feel that something had got away from me if I don't."
Unlike Edwards, Holmes appeared well satisfied with her bronze after finishing in a season's best of 1min 59.83sec in a race dominated from start to finish by Yolanda Ceplak, the flaxen-haired Slovenian who broke through to notice earlier this year at the age of 25 by denying Austria's Steffi Graf the European indoor title on her home ground of Vienna, setting a world indoor best of 1min 55.82sec in the process.
But Holmes could not resist passing her own comment on the achievement of Ceplak, who won in 1min 57.65sec ahead of Spain's Marte Martinez, who clocked 1:58.86.
"There was no way of catching her," Holmes said. "Without saying too much, take your own guesses. I know I did it cleanly and fairly and with progression."
Ceplak responded indignantly to reports of Holmes' comments. "I can tell you that I can go to dope testing every day, every hour. I am not taking anything. I train so hard I cry. That is the reason I have won today."
Caines had to settle for less than he had bargained for in the 400m final as the giant figure of the home runner Ingo Schultz – seven inches taller than him at 6ft 7in – maintained his early lead to cross the line first in 45.14sec, roared home by a close-to-capacity Olympic stadium crowd.
As the field entered the finishing straight, Caines looked like a boy trying to keep up with his dad. He shook his head in disappointment at the end as he saw confirmation that Spain's David Canal had beaten him to the silver medal on the line, recording 45.24 to his 45.28.
"I knew he'd go out fast, but not that fast," Caines said. "I didn't have enough down the home straight. Fair play, he had his day in front of his home crowd. Maybe I'll get mine."
McConnell took the women's 400m bronze with another finely judged piece of running following her Commonwealth silver medal winning effort for Scotland in Manchester. The 23-year-old former high jumper from Glasgow produced a personal best of 51.02sec to take third place behind the home runner Grit Breuer, who recorded 50.70, and Olesya Zykina, of Russia, who won in 50.45.
Darren Campbell's hopes of adding a European 200m medal to the 100m bronze he won on Tuesday ended in calamity here as he was disqualified for running outside his lane after apparently qualifying for today's semi-final.
It all came down to a single step over the line as he turned into the final straight en route to winning his second round heat with ease in 20.78. That was a needless error from the experienced runner who emerged from the Manchester Commonwealth Games with a bronze in the 200 metres and gold in the sprint relay, plus memories that cannot be tarnished of carrying the English flag in front of his home-city crowd.
Watching the action from the stands last night was Paula Radcliffe, who confirmed yesterday that she would not be seeking to add a 5,000m gold medal to the one she already has from the 10,000m.
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