Athletics: Mark of a fierce sprinting rivalry

European Trials: Lewis-Francis claims first senior AAA title as cat-and-mouse duel with Chambers is talked up

By Simon Turnbull
Sunday 17 November 2013 04:11
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Perhaps John Regis had it right after all. When the 200m-man-turned-television commentator compared the burgeoning rivalry between Dwain Chambers and Mark Lewis-Francis to the competition between Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe two decades ago it seemed he was somewhat off the mark. The young British sprinters have already raced each other twice this summer in the build up to the Commonwealth Games and the European Championships, which is twice as many times as Ovett and Coe ever met on the track outside the major championships.

It remains to be seen whether Chambers' decision to miss the 100m yesterday at the Norwich Union European Trials and AAA Championships is the first sidestep towards the long-term development of the kind of arm's-length jousting that moved one observer to liken the Ovett-Coe battle for middle-distance supremacy to "a game of postal chess". In the meantime, with Commonwealth and European 100m titles on the line, Chambers and Lewis-Francis are on course for confrontations in the City of Manchester Stadium in two weeks' time and in Munich's Olympic Stadium a fortnight later.

Chambers might be the man in pole position, on the strength of his high-profile, high-speed scalping of Maurice Greene in Oslo and Sheffield last month, but Lewis-Francis is closing fast. At the Commonwealth trials in Manchester four weeks ago Lewis-Francis finished 0.04sec behind the British No 1. In Sheffield a fortnight ago the gap was 0.02sec. Yesterday, with Chambers saving his energy for the 200m today and for a renewal of battle with Greene over 100m in Monaco on Friday night, Lewis-Francis added a first AAA title to his growing list of achievements in the cut and thrust of senior competition.

On his home track at the Alexander Stadium, the 19-year-old Birchfield Harrier finished strongly in the final 30m, overhauling Jason Gardener and Darren Campbell to claim victory in 10.06sec. "I'm happy to have come out and performed in front of my home crowd," he said, before departing for treatment on a sore hamstring. Behind him, the youngest ever winner of the AAA 100m title left an equally happy man in the 28-year-old Campbell.

The Sale Harrier finished strongly himself, edging past Gardener in the last few strides to take second place by 0.02sec in 10.11sec, his fastest time for two years. In doing so, Campbell laid claim to the second automatic berth in the British team for Munich and the right to defend the European title he won in Budapest four years ago – should he decide to accept his place. He also gave the English Commonwealth Games selectors the proof they required of his fitness to run the 200m in the City of Manchester Stadium. "The Commonwealth Games is my main priority," he said. "I'm a Manchester United fan and it will be great to christen the track at Manchester City's new stadium. To win there would be fantastic." It would also be a greater achievement than Campbell's silver-medal-winning 200m run at the Sydney Olympics. After clocking a scorching 19.99sec in Rome on Friday night, Frankie Fredericks confirmed that he will be concentrating on the 200m in Manchester. And he also happens to be a Manchester United fanatic – albeit from a distance as far afield as Namibia.

Fredericks has returned to form at the age of 34 after two years of Achilles' tendon injuries. Campbell is clearly getting back into shape himself after two years of injury problems and he will be chasing a fast time against Chambers in what promises to be a thrilling 200m today. "If I run 21.1 I'll just do the 200m in Munich," he said. "I can't see myself doing the 100m and the 200m." That could be good news for Gardener, who would join Chambers and Lewis-Francis to complete the British 100m trio in Munich.

Campbell was not the only Sale Harrier with a point to prove yesterday. Darren Ritchie was dropped from Scotland's Lottery funding list last year when he was forced out of action after suffering stress fractures to both feet. The 28-year-old Galashiels man still has a steel pin in one foot and warmed up for the long jump yesterday with a question mark remaining over his future in his second sport.

The former rugby player removed any doubts in emphatic style as he claimed the floppy-haired scalp of Chris Tomlinson, the 20-year-old tiro from Teesside who smashed Lynn Davies' ancient British record in May. Ritchie's fifth-round jump, 7.93m, eclipsed Tomlinson's best effort, 7.82m, and established a Scottish record.

"I came here not knowing whether I'd carry on to next season," he said. "It all depended how I got on this weekend." There is no question now that Ritchie has a future – starting in two weeks' time, as a serious threat to Tomlinson for the Commonwealth title in Manchester.

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