GREAT BRITAIN SUFFERING SPRINTER ERROR
By Colin Bateman
Thursday January 5,2012
Mark Lewis-Francis, Marlon Devonish, Darren Campbell
and Jason Gardener.
WHEN the world shifts to the edge of its seat to watch Usain Bolt settle on to his blocks for the final of the 100m at the London Games next summer, the closest the home nation is likely to come to being involved is if the starter is British.
The showpiece event of the Olympics on August 5 will take place without any home runner for the 80,000 crowd to roar on.
While the world’s fastest men are pushing the barrier towards nine-and-a-half seconds, Britain’s best cannot break the 10-second barrier.
The best British times for the 100m were posted in the last century: Linford Christie (9.87secs) in 1993, and Dwain Chambers (9.97) and Jason Gardener (9.98) in 1999. They are the only British men to have run sub-10, Chambers last doing it in 2010 when he clocked 9.99.
The biggest indictment of British sprinting is that Chambers, who has come back from a drugs ban, is still Britain’s best sprinter at the age of 33.
Even if he has his lifetime Olympic ban lifted by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) this spring, it is not likely to cause Bolt, Tyson Gay and Yohan Blake sleepless nights.
We are in a desperate situation. Globally, the sport has moved on and we have not.
Gardener, involved in a range of activities in athletics including coaching and consultancy, says: “We are in a desperate situation. Globally, the sport has moved on and we have not.
“They are not good enough. I know the athletes work hard, but we need to understand what the best athletes in the world are doing, what changes have been made to bring that record tumbling down to what it is [9.58]. Our athletes have to look in the mirror. The best are running 10.1 and we are asking them to make a difference of half-a-second just to be competitive. That is an almighty challenge.”
Gardener, 36, won a host of titles but the pinnacle was at Athens in 2004 when he collected Olympic gold in the sprint relay with Darren Campbell, Marlon Devonish and Mark Lewis-Francis.
The most promising of those was Lewis-Francis, who won world youth titles in 1999 and 2000 but who has not progressed. None of that trio went sub-10 seconds.
The depressing sub-text to Gardener’s career is that of drugs in elite sprinting.
Of those three British runners to break the 10-second barrier, he is the only one with an untainted past. He knows he was denied the top places by drug-takers, including Chambers.
He missed out on a place at the 2003 World Championships to Chambers and said later: “I was denied by a cheat.” In Athens a year later he just missed out on a place in the Olympic final that included Justin Gatlin and Aziz Zakari, both convicted drug cheats.
“Sport was my business and it is a hard business,” says Gardener. “If you don’t achieve success, you go out of business – and it is not nice to go out of business when you have been wronged, cheated.
“It was hard to accept when people cheated you from an Olympic final.
“We are the victims, not those who have taken the drugs. The system is weak, it does not do a good enough job catching the cheats or giving them a long enough punishment, so athletes can afford to take the risk.”
If Chambers is cleared to run in London, Gardener will watch with no enthusiasm.
But he said: “It is not about Chambers, it is about drug cheating in general. I am a hard-liner. The punishment should be you must serve an Olympic-cycle ban – four years.”
Gardener, giving his message to a group of elite competitors from a range of sports at Loughborough University through the Youth Sport Trust, added: “The theme running through this camp is you cannot rely on just talent. That just gets you on the ladder.
“You have to find out what is that thing between having talent and going on to achieve greatness.
“We managed to win Olympic gold the right way and that is still a very powerful story for these youngsters.”
Gardener has two children, Harry, seven, and Milly, four, and he said: “If they showed an interest in Olympic track and field, I would like to feel satisfied they were embarking on a career where it is fair. I don’t want to expose them to a level of sport at the top where it is disgusting and corrupt.”
Jason Gardener is an ambassador for the Youth Sport Trust.