Athletics: Moment of truth for confident Chambers in sprint showdown

By Mike Rowbottom
Saturday 01 March 2003 01:00

Dwain Chambers, who has talked the talk as an indoor sprinter this year, must walk the walk in Birmingham this afternoon to qualify for the World Indoor Championships on the same track in a fortnight's time.

The powerfully-built 24-year-old, who ended last season as European 100 metres champion and joint European record-holder, has never been noted as an indoor performer, but he has emerged from warm-weather training in California with the stated intention of running 60m in 6.44 seconds – well inside Jason Gardner's British record – and maybe as fast as 6.36, which is faster than Maurice Greene's world record.

The affable Londoner's predictions looked overheated in Birmingham's National Indoor Arena last Friday week when he failed to reach the 60m final at the Norwich Union Grand Prix, managing only 6.68sec in his heat. Chambers shrugged off the result, adding that he needed a couple of races to get into the season after recovering from a minor knee injury. But he has no margin for error in the AAA Championships, incorporating World Trials, which start at the NIA today ahead of the Championships from 14 to 16 March.

Only two places are available for the 60m, and with Gardener, who won last Friday week in a season's best of 6.49sec, odds on to claim automatic selection, the second spot could be between Chambers and Mark Lewis-Francis, who is desperate to compete in a global championship at an arena less than a mile from where he was born.

Lewis-Francis's own form has been relatively sluggish, but his 6.57sec in Birmingham indicated he could be back to the kind of shape which saw him earn a world indoor bronze two years ago in Lisbon and European indoor silver behind Gardener in Vienna last year.

In the wake of his victory at the NIA, Gardener was sardonic about Chambers' claims. "After all he had said this week, I would have expected Dwain to be in the final," he said.

The 200m should prove equally contentious. Marlon Devonish, an easy winner at the Grand Prix meeting, is refusing to run this weekend, feeling his 20.51sec should gain him a place. Whether the Commonwealth silver medallist's gamble comes off will depend on how the Olympic runner-up Darren Campbell, Christian Malcolm, second in the last World Indoors, and Julian Golding, the 1998 Commonwealth champion, perform.

Back to his best after fighting injury for three years, Golding ran 20.77sec – Devonish is the only Briton to better it – at the Birmingham Games two days after the major international event, where he was not considered good enough for a start lane. Malcolm is nowhere near the form which has made him a dangerous indoor specialist while Campbell will be determined to stamp his mark on the race.

Added interest will be provided by the veterans Solomon Wariso and Doug Turner (the AAA champion), and the Commonwealth finalist Dominic Demeritte, the Bahamas man who runs as a guest.

Two 36-year-old world record holders, Jonathan Edwards and Colin Jackson, miss their triple jump and 60m hurdles events. They were due to compete in Germany last night. But Daniel Caines, favourite to retain his World Indoor 400m title on home soil, the Commonwealth 1,500m champion Michael East and the British 1,000m record holder, Jo Fenn, will all be competing.

Jamie Baulch seems likeliest to join Caines for the World Indoors, an event he won in 1999. A number of other British runners will also be seeking relay places, among them the hurdler Matt Elias, Mark Hylton and Jared Deacon. However, it is the overseas guests Daniel Batman and Chris Brown, who will run Caines the closest here. East, who achieved prominence with a surprise Commonwealth Games 1500m win last summer, faces a big challenge from Cardiff's James Thie, the fastest Briton in the world this year.

The men's long jump sees the resumption of rivalry between the UK record holder Chris Tomlinson and the Commonwealth champion Nathan Morgan. Darren Ritchie, the Scot who placed fourth in the Commonwealth Games, is the man most likely to deny one of them a place in the British team.

The AAA champion, Amy Spencer, leads the UK 200m rankings for 2003 after her British junior record of 23.34 last week. Catherine Murphy, Joice Maduaka and Susan Burnside also have the qualifying standard but the most interesting battle could be between Spencer and Vernicha James, the world junior champion, who represent the future of British female sprinting.

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