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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 August, 2004, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
GB men conjure golden finish
By Phil Gordos
BBC Sport in Athens

Mark Lewis Francis (left) and Marlon Devonish celebrate Britain's win
Gold medals are always precious but they take on a different hue when they come out of the blue.

After the shocking performances of Britain's male athletes in Athens, few expected them to come up trumps on the final day of track and field action.

But just when it looked like they would finish without an Olympic medal of any colour for the first time in history, the 4x100m relay team recorded one of the most spectacular victories of the Games.

The United States looked unbeatable.

With 100m champion Justin Gatlin, 200m champion Shawn Crawford and three-time world champion Maurice Greene in their line-up, they were by far the quicker team on paper.

Even the fourth member of the quartet, Coby Miller, had dipped below 10 seconds in the US trials only last month.

In stark contrast, the records of the British squad were far less impressive. Only Jason Gardener has ever run under 10 seconds - and that was back in 1999.

As for Darren Campbell, he has been dogged by a hamstring injury while Marlon Devonish failed to even earn selection in the individual 200m.

Finally, Mark Lewis-Francis, who anchored the team to victory, has seen his form dip alarmingly after such a bright start to his career.

Add to the mix the poor record of the British in recent relay races and it is not hard to understand why so few people gave them a chance of upsetting the Americans.

But just 80 minutes after Kelly Holmes had re-written the record books by adding 1500m gold to her 800m title, the impossible happened.

Darren Campbell
The craziest thing is we knew we were going to win it
Darren Campbell

The Americans caught the British disease of mucking up the baton changeovers and Lewis-Francis edged out Greene by the thickness of his vest.

Time stood still for just a split second inside the Olympic Stadium as the crowd tried to comprehend what they had just seen.

But when Lewis-Francis started to leap around like a madman before being swamped by his team-mates, reality began to sink in.

"It's a fantastic feeling, a dream come true," said Gardener. "We know we've been disappointing in our individual races but we had a real belief in ourselves."

For Campbell and Devonish, the win more than made amends for the loss of their World Championship silver.

That was taken away from them when Dwain Chambers tested positive for THG.

And for Campbell, there was another and perhaps more significant reason to revel in Britain's shock success.

Having been criticised publicly by American track legend Michael Johnson, who doubted the seriousness of his injury, the Manchester sprinter revealed he had almost quit the Games in despair.

"After what certain people have said about me I did contemplate going home," said Campbell.

"I had a meeting with the guys and said if they wanted me to keep going I would. Once they put their faith in me, I had full faith in them.

"The craziest thing is we knew we were going to win it."

Campbell also admitted winning gold went a long way to making amends for Sydney, when he finished second to Kostas Kenteris in the 200m.

The achievements of the Greek sprinter have since come under scrutiny after he was forced to withdraw from these Games for missing a drugs test.

And Campbell, with a gold medal round his neck instead of a silver, added a little fuel to the fire by saying: "Maybe this is the way it should have been four years ago."

Politics aside, the relay victory was hugely important.

It gave Britain cause to celebrate rather than mourn what up until then had been a disastrous track and field campaign, bar the golden performances of Holmes.

"I always get a medal and I didn't think this was going to be any different," said Campbell, who was aware the British men were in danger of making Olympic history for all the wrong reasons.

"I knew it was down to us and Steve Backley. We just had to go out there and give it our best shot."

With Backley finishing just outside the medals in the javelin, the efforts of Campbell, Gardener, Devonish and Lewis-Francis turned out to be all the more valuable.

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