At 19, Mark Lewis-Francis has already got off to a head start in his career as a senior athlete. The Birchfield Harrier was still a junior last year when he won a 60m bronze medal at the World Indoor Championships in Lisbon and when he blasted to victory in the 100m at the European Cup in Bremen. In March he added a European Indoor silver to his medal collection and yesterday, in the cold and wet at Loughborough University, the young man from Darlaston emerged impressively victorious from his first outdoor race on British soil as a senior.
Slow to rise from his starting blocks, Lewis-Francis surged imperiously clear of his rivals before easing across the line in the 100m at the Aqua Pura International meeting, the traditional curtain-raiser to the domestic track-and-field season. His time, 10.10sec, equalled the official personal best he recorded when winning the B race at the British Grand Prix meeting at Crystal Palace two years ago. The young speed merchant did run 9.97sec in the quarter-finals at the World Championships in Edmonton last August, though the time could not be recognised because the wind gauge failed to register a reading.
In the less than favourable conditions, it was a highly impressive performance – not least because Lewis-Francis jogged directly from the track to the treatment table in the pavilion. "I felt my hamstring pulling in the last 20 metres," he said. "That's why I slowed down. I didn't want to take any chances." Lewis-Francis, who won by a margin of 0.28sec from Daniel Plummer, will be back in action for his club in the British League meeting at Watford today and plans to test himself against American opposition in the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon, next Sunday. "It's early days," he said. "There's a lot more to come."
Like Lewis-Francis, Chris Rawlinson is also in fine early-season form. Indeed, the Loughborough student briefly headed the world rankings with the 48.49sec he clocked for the 400m hurdles in Walnut, California, last month. He has since slipped to fifth place in the global pecking order, but his time was only 0.34sec slower than his personal best and it eclipsed the meeting record at the Mount Sac Relays that had been held by a certain Ed Moses.
Rawlinson was in impressive shape too on home ground yesterday. Running in the hurdles-free 400m, he set a scorching pace from the start and finished O.76sec clear of Tim Benjamin, the young Welshman who won the European junior 400m title last summer. His winning time, 46.13sec, was just 0.02sec outside the personal best he set in infinitely more favourable conditions last weekend while running for his Greek club, Panellinios, in their national club championships.
Rawlinson, a one-time Gladiators contender, turns 30 today. Having finished fifth in the World Championships last summer and been knocked out at the semi-final stage at the Olympics in 2000, the Yorkshireman could well be a serious contender for a place on the podium at the Commonwealth Games and European Championships this summer. "I need a medal this year," he said. "I'm amazed I'm running so fast so early in the season."
Unfortunately for Tara Krzywicki, her specialist event does not figure on the schedule at the Commonwealth Games or the European Championships, but there is a women's 3,000m steeplechase on the programme at the European Cup in Annecy next month and the former Loughborough student strengthened her claim to the British team place with her first outing of the season over the barriers yesterday.
Any hopes she may have entertained of challenging her British record over the 2,000m distance were ruled out by the torrential downpour which greeted the Charnwood athlete and her six rivals, though she still emerged an impressive winner, 27 seconds clear of the field in 6min 35.29sec.
At 28, Krzywicki must wait another three years before her track-and-field forte achieves major championship status. An exhibition event at the World Championships in Paris next year, it will not receive full recognition until the World Championships in Helsinki in 2005. Whether Krzywicki makes it to the Fin-nish capital remains to be seen, but she already has an international sporting career behind her. Before being discovered as a runner while training on a treadmill at a Loughborough gym, she played football for Wales. So did her father, Dick – a flying winger with West Bromwich Albion and Huddersfield Town.
Rhys Williams' father was also a flying wing – and he played with even greater distinction for Wales. JJ Williams won 30 caps in the great Welsh rugby sides of the 1970s but was an international sprinter first. Indeed, he partnered Lynn Davies in the Welsh 4 x 100m relay team at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, and also competed in the 100m and 200m. His 18-year-old son has clearly inherited his preponderance of fast-twitch fibres.
Rhys Williams won the 400m hurdles title at the European Youth Olympics last summer and yesterday the 18-year-old student improved his personal best to 52.49sec, finishing third behind Steve Surety and Liam Collins. His main target this summer is the World Junior Championships in Jamaica in July. It might have been different, though. He was a full-back in the Welsh Under-18 rugby union squad before deciding to concentrate his sporting efforts on a track career.
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