Linford Christie’s the reason for silver, says Mark Lewis-Francis
Mark Lewis-Francis last night hailed coach Linford Christie after sprinting to a shock silver medal in the European Championships in Barcelona.
With Christie looking on in the same stadium where he won Olympic gold in 1992, Lewis-Francis upstaged British team-mate Dwain Chambers to snatch second place in the 100 metres final behind France's Christophe Lemaitre.
World and European indoor champion Chambers had been expected to battle Lemaitre for gold, but while the young Frenchman duly took the title in 10.11 seconds, Chambers was run out of the medals entirely.
In a blanket finish, Lewis-Francis took second in 10.18secs, with second to fifth all given the same time. France's Martial Mbandjock claimed bronze ahead of defending champion Francis Obikwelu of Portugal, with Chambers relegated to fifth.
“A big thank you to Linford Christie, if it wasn't for you I wouldn't be here now,” said a stunned Lewis-Francis. “I'm European silver medallist, wow!
“Linford was my inspiration from when I was a kid. To be coached by him is an honour, he motivated me all the way through my races.”
Lewis-Francis was only given the third individual 100m berth last week after impressing UK Athletics head coach Charles van Commenee at the team's training camp in Portugal.
“I got to the final on a lucky star (as a fastest loser in the semi-finals) and I got to these championships on a lucky star,” he added. “2010 is my year, I am the happiest man in the world. I said I'd take fourth place before the final and I ended up with second.
“I didn't think I'd beat Chambers, no way, but Linford is an amazing coach, he always had belief in me.”
Lewis-Francis was hailed as the future of British sprinting when he won the world junior title in 2000 and anchored the British 4x100m relay team to a surprise gold medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004.
But the 27-year-old has struggled with injuries and poor form in recent seasons, missing the entire 2008 campaign with a torn Achilles tendon and losing his lottery funding at the end of last year.
“For all the knocks I have taken this is the biggest comeback ever
and the biggest boost,” the Birmingham athlete added. “It is a new beginning, this is the rebuilding of Mark Lewis-Francis. I hope I have answered some of the critics.”
Chambers, who won the European title in 2002 but had to hand back his gold medal when he tested positive for steroids a year later, said: “I was just glad to be a part of it. It's been a struggle to get here, you can't win them all and I did the best I could.
“Of course I mind (missing a medal). I am disappointed but I got myself here. Life goes on and I am confident I should get a few more races this year.”
Earlier, Martyn Rooney earlier advanced to the final of the 400 metres, but only as a fastest loser following an error-strewn display.
Rooney could only finish third in the first semi-final and admitted: “I made mistakes. I slowed down at 200m for some stupid reason and kicked too early. I made silly mistakes. You can't make those mistakes in the final or you will be punished.”
The former Olympic finalist already has been, his poor perform
ance seeing him handed the tight lane one for the final, hardly ideal for a man of 6ft 5in.
Belgium's Jonathan Borlee remains favourite for gold after setting a new national record and fastest time in Europe this year of 44.71 seconds.
Britain's Michael Bingham was more assured in finishing second in his semi-final, the 24-year-old clocking a season's best of 44.88 as he was just overtaken on the line by Ireland's David Gillick (44.79). Conrad Williams bowed out as he could only finish sixth in the third semi-final in 46.60.
Perri Shakes-Drayton and Eilidh Child, first and second respectively in the European Under-23 championships in Lithuania last year, also qualified for the final of the 400m hurdles.
Shakes-Drayton set a new personal best of 54.73 when finishing third in her semi-final.