Mark Lewis-Francis reacted indignantly yesterday to the news that his sprint rival Dwain Chambers has chosen to run only the 200 metres at this weekend's Norwich Union European trials and AAA Championships.
Chambers, who has twice beaten the world No 1, Maurice Greene, over 100m this season, will rely on the selectors to give him the discretionary place at the shorter distance. But his 19-year-old challenger, a member of the Birchfield Harriers club whose stadium in Birmingham will stage the trials, believes the decision is wrong.
Asked if he thought the 24-year-old Londoner was running scared, he replied: "It sounds like it. To have beaten Dwain on my home ground would have been nice, but for him not to sounds like a weak way out.
"I was looking forward to showing everyone in Birmingham that I could beat Dwain Chambers. I'm not No 1 until I've beaten the No 1 and I thought this race was the one for me to come out and say: 'Yes, I'm only 19 but I can still beat the best.'
"But there will be many more times to come, with the Commonwealth Games just down the road. I will beat him where it counts. I think it's people playing cynical mind games. Obviously he's Britain's No 1 and I know he doesn't have to run the trials if he doesn't want to. But I don't think that's right. I think they should go for the trials like everybody else."
Although Chambers' action removes one of the more interesting head-to-heads from the three-day event, the pressure and interest in both sprint races remains high because of the unprecedented number of talented athletes involved.
In the 100m it means that only the first two past the post will make next month's European Championships in Munich, assuming they have the qualifying standard. But the absence of Chambers may allow Lewis-Francis to run a more relaxed race, which might see him go under 10 seconds for the first time without the benefit of a following wind or the problem of a faulty wind-gauge, which denied him that distinction at last year's World Championships.
Jason Gardener, still seeking top form over 100m after retaining the European indoor 60m title in March, will be anxious to reach his first big outdoor competition since the Olympics after having his 2001 season ruined by a back injury, while Darren Campbell will be challenging for the right to defend the title he won in Budapest four years ago.
Campbell, who had to miss the 200m at the Commonwealth Trials in his home city of Manchester because of a chest infection, has recovered his fitness in time to claim not just the discretionary Commonwealth place offered to him, but a run in Munich too. His time of 20.52sec in Zagreb on Monday indicated that he is returning to his best form.
However, the Olympic silver medallist will need to be close to the top of his game to earn a place in a 200m field stacked with talent. Chambers, who heads this year's British rankings with 20.27, goes in as favourite, but others such as the European Cup winner Marlon Devonish, the Olympic finalist Christian Malcolm, the Commonwealth qualifier Chris Lambert, the European silver medallist Doug Turner, the Commonwealth champion Julian Golding, and the relay specialist Allyn Condon all have the talent to come into the running.
The 400 metres will not carry such competitive pressure, especially as Daniel Caines, Britain's top runner this season, has withdrawn on medical advice in order to allow a knee injury time to recover before the Commonwealth Games start later this month.
Interest will now centre on whether Iwan Thomas, whose career has been undermined by a succession of injuries since he won the Commonwealth, European and World Cup gold medals four years ago, can return from his latest setback to earn the right to defend his title. Thomas, now 28, has yet to break 46 seconds this season but could rise to the challenge against the race favourites, Jared Deacon and Sean Baldock.
The men's 1500m offers a potential upset as four favourites – John Mayock, Michael East, Anthony Whiteman and Andrew Graffin – chase three places. After being overlooked at his favourite distance by England's Commonwealth selectors, Mayock, the British No 1 last season, will be anxious to make his point in Birmingham.
Chris Tomlinson, Britain's new long jump record holder, will face a tough battle against his main challenger, Nathan Morgan of Birchfield Harriers.
Kelly Holmes, due to race in Rome today, will run over 1500m rather than 800 if she opts to go on to Birmingham. It remains to be seen whether the two other Britons in action in the Italian capital, Steve Backley and Jonathan Edwards, travel on to the Midlands.
While the women's events lack the strength in depth of some of the men's, the 100m should be tough as Abi Oyepitan, the World University Games champion, returns from injury to face Joice Maduaka, Shani Anderson and Marcia Richardson.
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