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Monday, 22 July, 2002, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
Young stars take long road
Justin Rose holds his follow-through
Rose came close to Open glory at Muirfield

Jenson Button awoke on Monday morning a relieved man.

With a contract to drive for the BAR team signed over the weekend, Button's future in Formula One was safe.

That he had been facing the end of his nascent Grand Prix career at just 22 years old might seem a tough call.

But, like golfer Justin Rose, Button has struggled to convert initial youthful success into the hard currency of professional wins.

A pensive Jenson Button
Button's switch to BAR keeps his F1 career alive
Rose finished the Open at Muirfield just five shots off the lead - fair reflection of the progress he has made this season.

Just as Button scored points in only his second ever Grand Prix, so Rose finished an unheralded fourth, aged just 17, at his first Open.

That was four years ago. In between Royal Birkdale and Muirfield, Rose struggled to climb a learning-curve so steep that at times he appeared to be making no progress at all.

All the while the British public waited for the titles that never came.

So why have the two tyros found it so tough?

Elsewhere in sport, precocious young Brits have burst into the senior ranks and settled in without a care in the world.

Mark Lewis-Francis goes into the Commonwealth Games and European Championships as one of the favourites for 100m gold, aged just 19.

Mark Lewis-Francis in action this season
Lewis-Francis is mixing with the best at 19 years old
Two years ago he was winning World Junior 100m gold in Santiago, yet his transition into world-class senior has been seamless.

Last summer he made it to the semi-finals of the World Championships; this year he has beaten world record holder Maurice Greene and become British champion for the first time.

Lewis-Francis even talks the talk, happy to criticise rival Dwain Chambers for pulling out of a potential clash at the AAAs earlier this month.

In both codes of rugby too the young guns have blasted their way to the top within the blink of an eye.

Andy Farrell made his first-team debut for Wigan aged 16, for England at 18 and was captaining his country at 21.

Five years on he is as strong and dominant as ever, gaining more metres in Super League last season than any other player.

Over in union, Jonny Wilkinson became England's youngest player for 71 years when he won his first senior cap against Ireland in 1998, aged just 18 years and 314 days.

Andy Farrell in action for England
Farrell captained England at 21
By the age of 21 he had broken his mentor Rob Andrew's record for points scored for England, improving all aspects of his game at a rate which surpasses all expectation.

Button can point in his defence to the limited opportunities available to him.

The leap to Formula One is a bigger one to make than from reserve team rugby to the first XV.

And while Lewis-Francis is in complete control of his own destiny, Button can only do his best with the materials available to him - if that car is uncompetitive, he will be too.

Rose can consider himself unfortunate to have made his original breakthrough the year after Tiger Woods had won his first Major.

The British public and media wanted a home-grown Tiger, no matter that a player like Woods comes around once in a blue pastel moon.

To be playing the way he is at 21 still marks Rose down as one of the country's brightest sporting talents.

And Button too, thanks to the BAR loan deal, should have the chance to prove himself worthy of the early hype before grey hairs appear on his head.

See also:

21 Jul 02 | Formula One
18 Jul 02 | The Open
13 Jul 02 | Athletics
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