By Neil Wilson in Barcelona
In the blink of an eye: Lemaitre crosses the line ahead of Lewis-Francis
There is a new force in European sprinting and he's French.
Dwain Chambers lost the 100 metres final last night to Christophe Lemaitre, a dozen years his junior. He was beaten by the first white man to win this title for 28 years and the first to run under 10 seconds.
Chambers was not even among the medallists after the contest that had been built around the two.
That honour went, remarkably, to compatriot Mark Lewis-Francis, who was added to Britain's selection only last week. 'Oh, my God, I am over the moon. Underdog is an understatement,' exclaimed Lewis-Francis, one of the 2004 Olympic gold-winning relay team.
Chambers shared a time of 10.18sec with Lewis-Francis but after a long examination of the finish photo he was adjudged to be fifth behind third-placed Frenchman Martial Mbandjock and Portugal's Francis Obikwelu, all awarded the same time.
All though were well beaten by Lemaitre. His time of 10.11sec was a disappointment given that he broke 10 seconds less than three weeks ago but this was a contest where only winning mattered.
Sympathy: Lewis-Francis, who won silver, consoles Chambers about missing out on a medal
It was in this iconic Olympic Stadium in 1992 that Linford Christie won his Olympic gold, and the man Chambers says first inspired him was back there last night close to the finish.
Instead of greeting a triumph by the man he once managed, Christie was hugging Lewis-Francis, the one he has coached and motivated back from the abyss of losing his Lottery funding and coming close to retirement.
'A big thank you to Linford Christie - if it wasn't for you I wouldn't be here now,' Lewis- Francis said to his mentor. 'I got to the final on a lucky star and I got to these championships on a lucky star. I am the happiest man in the world. I never thought I'd beat Chambers. But Linford says, "Whatever happens, happens".'
The stadium was half full but for the followers of athletics this was seen as the race of the championships, a true contest of equals from different generations in the event that has always held the greatest fascination.
Over the line: Christophe Lemaitre finishes in 10.11secs to win European gold
The Catalan parliament banned bull fighting in Barcelona hours before the race but this gladiatorial confrontation was a blood sport itself.
Young French cock challenges gnarled British bulldog, and one reputation was bound to be left bloodied and bruised in the arena.
While Chambers, at 32, has been enjoying a late summer of life as a sprinter, a few sunny moments after the dark days of his doping ban, Lemaitre, 20, is the new kid on the blocks, an arrival from the unlikely setting of Annecy in the French Alps.
Mutual respect: Chambers congratulates Lemaitre at the end of the 100m final in Barcelona
The city is bidding for the 2018 Winter Olympics and has made Lemaitre its Olympic Ambassador. Chambers, of course, is banned by the BOA from competing in his home city in 2012.
Lemaitre became known when he won the world junior 200 metres champion in 2008 and the European junior 100 championship last year when he broke the under-20 record set by Chambers in winning the same title in 1997.
What gave his name a more distinctive place in the history books was a performance this month in the French championships when he became the first white man to run 100 metres under 10 seconds, a feat that persuaded the French sports paper L'Equipe to devote its first three pages to it in the midst of the Tour de France.
Their Anglo-French rivalry has been diplomatic all summer, an entente cordiale between men who respect each other. 'He's a good kid. He's going places,' said Chambers. 'He's a great sprinter,' said Lemaitre in return.
Lemaitre won the first semi in 10.06sec into a breeze, while Lewis-Francis only qualified in third in a year's best of 10.21sec.
Chambers, up next, won in 10.10 into a lesser breeze but he reined back in the last five strides. So they were as good as equal going into the final. 'Experience is the one ace I have,' said Chambers.
It was not enough. Youth won it for Lemaitre.
Thursday, July 29, 2010