Athletics: Will Batman be robbing the Brits?

Young hopefuls fight for final place in the British team while Caines faces powerful Australian threat

Simon Turnbull
Sunday 02 March 2003 01:00
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The superheroes of track and field are getting ready to take on the world in Birmingham. Batman was at the National Indoor Arena yesterday, and he was fairly flying around the tightly banked 200m track. The presence of Daniel Batman in the heats of the men's 400m on the opening day of the Norwich Union AAA indoor championships was a sure sign that athletes around the globe are homing in on the world indoor championships, which start in the Birmingham arena a week on Friday. It was also a reminder that the best of the Brits might not have it all their own way on home ground.

Batman travelled all the way from Canberra to hone his form in the British trials meeting. Having run 45.02sec in an outdoor meeting in the Australian capital last weekend, the 21-year-old seems likely to pose a serious threat to Daniel Caines, the Brummie who heads the world indoor rankings this year with 45.76sec and who will be defending the world indoor crown in his home city in a fortnight. Caines was absent yesterday, nursing a sore hamstring, but Batman made his presence felt. A muscular, compact figure, as you might expect of a former Australian schools rugby union team-mate of Toutai Kefu, he powered clear of Matt Elias, the Commonwealth 400m hurdles silver medallist, to win the opening heat in 46.78sec It was a more than satisfactory start, in the wake of a midweek long-haul trip. "I just want to get used to running on this track," he said. "It's disappointing that Daniel Caines isn't here. I'll just have to race Jamie instead." Or perhaps not. Jamie Baulch, whose world indoor title Caines took in Lisbon two year ago, won the second heat of the day in 47.09sec but was then disqualified for running on the inside line of his lane. Still, whatever the domestic opposition, Batman can be expected to go quicker in the final today. "Long term I want to run a lot faster than 45 flat," he said. "But my first goal is to beat Darren Clark's indoor record."

On the strength of his Canberra run last weekend, the young Australian certainly seems destined to eclipse Clark's 10-year-old Australian indoor record, 46.45sec. Beyond that, it remains to be seen whether he will live up to his name and the Batman logo tattooed on his right biceps. The family stock he belongs to is not that of Bruce Wayne but of John Batman, who happens to be a prominent figure in Australian history. John Batman was the only native-born Australian to found a state capital, Melbourne. His father was a cutler from Middlesex transported to Botany Bay for handling stolen gunpowder.

Daniel, a direct descendant, was born in Melbourne but has settled in Canberra with Nova Peris, the multi-talented sportswoman who beat Cathy Freeman to the distinction of becoming the first Aborigine to win an Olympic gold medal, as a member of the victorious Australian women's hockey team in Atlanta in 1996, and who then became an international sprinter and training partner of Freeman. She succeeded Freeman as Commonwealth 200m champion in 1998 and ran in the 400m heats and semi-finals at the Sydney Olympics.

The first field event final of the weekend always seemed destined to go down under and Victor Chistyakov, Batman's Australian team-mate, duly emerged victorious from the pole vault, clearing a season's best of 5.60m. Like Batman, Chistyakov has family pedigree. The husband of Tatiana Grigoreva, the Commonwealth women's pole vault champion, the former Russian is the son of Natalya Pechenkina, who took the Olympic 400m bronze medal behind Colette Besson and Lillian Board in Mexico City in 1968.

If the domestic triallists were hardly hitting the heights yesterday, either literally or metaphorically, it was not surprising. Those high-profile athletes assured of selection were missing from the action, among them Jonathan Edwards, Colin Jackson, Kelly Holmes, Ashia Hansen and Jason Gardener. The absence of Gardener from the heats of the men's 60m left Dwain Chambers and Mark Lewis-Francis fighting for just the one place in the British team. With Gardener assured of the other place, on the strength of his vastly superior form to date this season, both men got off to a winning start in the heats, Chambers clocking 6.70sec in his race and Lewis-Francis 6.67sec in his. The second heat featured a rare sprinting appearance by Chris Tomlinson. The towering young Teessider advanced to the semi-finals, taking fifth place in 7.02sec, thus adding a new personal best to a record collection that includes the British outdoor long jump best.

Like Tomlinson, Jo Fenn is no stranger to the record business. At 28, she has made more than she has broken but the part-time professional singer lines up for the women's 800m final as the proud possessor of the British best indoor time for 1,000m. Tracking Jolanda Ceplak in the Norwich Union Grand Prix at the National Indoor Arena nine days ago, the Woodford Green athlete broke Kirsty Wade's 15-year-old British indoor 1,000m record, clocking 2min 38.45sec – a time Holmes failed to beat in Lievin last Sunday.

She is also hoping to gain recognition for another record. "I recorded a song three weeks ago called 'Reach'," Fenn said. "It's an athletic-minded song. I'll maybe market it to the BBC to use for the world indoors. Who knows?"

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