It was in the six months he spent at the Estadio Dr Magalhes Pessoa that Jose Mourinho was first christened “the Special One.” Having hauled the unfashionable Uniao de Leiria to fourth place in the Portuguese league, the future Stamford Bridge icon was headlined as such by the Lisbon sports paper Record. Seven years on, in the arena where Mourinho forged his reputation, Dwain Chambers emerged as the unlikely special one for the Great Britain athletics squad over the two days of the inaugural European Team Championships.
He might be banned from representing his country in the Olympic arena but the former drugs offender rode to Britain’s rescue after the hamstrung Rikki Fifton withdrew from the 200m. Having won the 100m with ease on Saturday, Chambers stepped into the breach and emerged victorious.
The big Belgrave Harrier rarely runs the longer sprint distance – the last time he did so in a Great Britain vest was at the World Championships in Edmonton in 2001 – but after blasting out of his blocks and then tiring in the home straight he had just enough fuel in the tank to hold off his rivals, prevailing in 20.55 seconds.
In doing so, Chambers took his personal points haul for the weekend to 24 – the highest individual contribution towards the 303 that put the British menand women in third place, behind Germany (326.5) and Russia (320), at the end of the combined competition that has replaced the old European Cup. His winning time (even more so than the 10.07sec he clocked in the 100m) was nothing very special but only two speed merchants managed to complete the 100m-200m double in the 43 years of the European Cup Britain’s Linford Christie and Eugen Ray, of East Germany.
“It’s great to be a team player,”
Chambers reflected, with not a little irony, the British track and field authorities having attempted to preclude him (without success) from their team for the world indoor championships last year. “I’m absolutely smashed,” he added. “I’ve done a few 200m races this summer and I’d like to run in at the World Championships in August but there was more pressure on me today to get points for the team.
I didn’t want Charles bollocking me.”
As it happened, Charles van Commenee, Britain’s head coach, was happy with Chambers’ efforts – and satisfied with the overall team performance.
“Obviously the aim is to win but finishing third is acceptable,” the Dutchman said, while volunteering that the standard in the throws and jumps had been “appalling”.
Chambers was not the only member of the British team to cross the line first on both days. In the final event yesterday the resurgent Tim Benjamin was responsible for a quarter of the 12 points earned.
An impressive winner of the individual 400m on Saturday, the Welshman anchored the 4x400m relay team to victory in 3min 00.82sec, with the help of Conrad Williams, Richard Strachan and Rob Tobin.
There was also a fine victory in the 110m hurdles yesterday, Andy Turner –who was dropped from Lottery funding last winter – producing a strong finish to win in 13.53sec. All of which followed an excellent first day where Britain led the way, thanks to wins by Chambers (100m), Benjamin (400m), Dai Greene (400m hurdles), Mo Farah (5,000m) and Emily Freeman (women’s 100m).
There might have been another success yesterday in the men’s triple jump but after venturing out to 17.50m in the second round Phillips Idowu was trumped by a 17.50m effort by Nelson Evora, the Portuguese athlete who denied him Olympic gold in Beijing last summer. Christine Ohuruogu, the British team captain and winner of the women’s 400m in the Chinese capital, dropped down in distance to 200m and finished third in 23.40sec.
Nick McCormick, meanwhile, did well to hold his nerve, and brave a pair of badly bloodied shins, to take fourth place in the 3,000m after two runners were left sprawled on the track in the desperate scramble to avoid elimination at one of the three designated “devil take the hindmost” points in the seven-and a half lap race. Fittingly, the crowd hissed its disapproval at such predictable pantomimicry.
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