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General News 16 July

Doucoure becomes the first ever IAAF World Youth Champion

Doucoure becomes the first ever IAAF World Youth Champion
By Phil Minshull in Bydgoszcz for the IAAF

16 July 1999 - The name of Peter Chumba will forever be in the history books as the person who took the first ever IAAF world junior title and 13 years to the day after the Kenyan won the 10,000 metres in Athens, French hurdler Ladji Doucoure won a place alongside him as the first ever winner of an IAAF World Youth Championship gold medal.

Doucoure, 16, had given notice in Bydgoszcz that he was the man to watch after the morning's heats in which he ran the fastest time of 13.47. He did not succumb to the pressure in the final and sped home in a new personal best of 13.26.

Canada's Paul Whitty, the eventual bronze medallist, was the first to rise but Qatar's Nassim Brahimi was ahead by the second hurdle.

However the Parisian schoolboy, with a Malian father and Senegalese mother, had already started his charge for the line and overhauled his Asian rival by the fifth hurdle. It was a lead he never relinquished and Brahimi finished second despite a personal best of 13.36.

"You can't believe how happy I am," Doucoure said. "My only regret is that I can't do a decathlon now," added the multi-talented Parisian business studies student. He is the French champion in the youth age-group discipline of nine events.

The name of Doucoure may soon feature again on the list of world youth champions. "My sister Henda is also a very talented hurdler. She is two years younger than me and has already run 12.10 for the 80 metres hurdles. I think she may win a medal at these championships in two years time."

Doucoure might have been lost to athletics but for an accident three years ago. He was a promising footballer - his 18 year old brother currently plays in the French fourth division - but broke his shin bone playing for his school in the French schools championships. "At that point I decided that athletics was less dangerous."

Jamaica has a tremendous tradition of women sprinters and Veronica Campbell is the latest of the production line. She arrived in Poland fearing the worst but ended up producing her best, arriving in Bydgoszcz with a best of 11.65, she reduced in to 11.59 when winning her semifinal and then sped to victory in 11.49.

"I was very nervous because I had been beaten by Lisa Sharpe (her team mate and silver medallist) all season. Also I changed my starting technique just four days before leaving Jamaica - it was very uncomfortable at first but it feels a lot better now," she joked.

An inspiration to Campbell has been the legendary Merlene Ottey - the IAAF's Patron of its Year of the Woman in 1998. "I've been following her progress since I was young. If I can be like her and get anywhere close to what she has achieved I'll be very happy."

Lisa Sharpe may feel a little disappointed at being usurped by her team mate but at she has time on her side and will be able to challenge for the gold medal in two years time. She improved her personal best to 11.52 in the final.

Mark Lewis Francis also had his concerns before the men's 100 final. The British sprinter from the Midlands town of Birmingham had pulled a hamstring at the English schools championships recently and feared it may go again.

However in the final he relaxed and blasted his way to 10.40, holding his early lead established after 20 metres. American sprinter Bryan Sears tried his best to close the gap but had to settle for second in 10.42 with Jamaica's Omar Brown taking the bronze one-hundredth of a second further back.

"In the heat and semifinal I had been worried. Before the semis it (the hamstring) was very stiff but I decided to think positively and in the final I didn't think about it at all."

Next stop for Lewis Francis will be the European Junior Championships in Riga, Latvia, next month. "But anything there will be a bonus," he said.

Lewis Francis is now eligible to try his hand at being a professional athlete, having left school earlier this month. However he has decided to extend his studies at college for a further two years.

"Education should always come first - then athletics," he said, demonstrating what many would consider a maturity beyond his years.

Another man going back to school and avoiding immediate monetary gains will be the Kenyan men's 3000 winner Pius Muli.

The Machakos schoolboy, whose favourite subject is agriculture even though he does not come from a farming family, uncorked a devastating barefoot final 400 in an estimated 53.7 seconds to cross the line in 8:08.16.

Half of his gold medal belongs by right to his teammate Michael Kipyego, who made the early pace that took the sting out of any potential challengers. "We decided these tactics when the boys were warming up. I chose Muli to be the winner because he had always beaten Kipyego in Kenya. We knew the Ethiopian (Kenenisa Bekele, who finished second in 8:09.89) was good so I had to sacrifice one of my athletes," Kenyan coach Robert Ngisinei said.

In contrast to the three speedsters who took the first three gold medals on the opening day and only trained two or three times a week, Muli trains twice and occasionally three times a day using as his role model Daniel Komen. "I started running three years ago and I saw Komen run and I thought: 'I want to be like him'," Muli added.