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Monday, 29 July, 2002, 21:36 GMT 22:36 UK

Nice guys do finish first

By Tom Fordyce
BBC Sport Online in Manchester

It takes a lot for 38,000 Mancunians to cheer a foreigner who has just beaten one of their own.

But Frankie Fredericks is not your average sprinter, and his victory over England's Darren Campbell was greeted with pleasure both in the stands and throughout the usually bitchy world of sprinting.

From Campbell, the boy from Moss Side, the confirmation of his bronze led to tears of happiness.

"I feared I might be finished - this is one of the medals I will never forget"
Frankie Fredericks

Earlier this season his chances of competing in City of Manchester Stadium seemed slim.

The realisation that he had edged a medal sent him rolling to the track in delight and disbelief.

Fredericks was outwardly more circumspect, but inside you can bet he was cavorting around like a teenager.

The 34-year-old is the great survivor of world sprinting, the man who pushed Linford Christie all the way at the Barcelona Olympics 100m in 1992.

Four years later in Atlanta, it took world records from Donovan Bailey over 100m and Michael Johnson over 200m to deny him gold.

The hair may have gone since those days, and the skin around the eyes might be a little more saggy.

But there is still silky magic in that ageing frame, still the graceful pace to beat Campbell and silver medallist Marlon Devonish by two clear metres.

"I'll do another winter and then who knows what I can do next year?"
Frankie Fredericks

You might think that a mere Commonwealth gold wouldn't mean that much to a man who has four Olympic silver medals and two world titles.

But Fredericks has been out for over two years with an Achilles injury, enough in the eyes of many to end his career.

That time on the sidelines re-fuelled the hunger, brought back the intense competitive instincts which first propelled him from a poor township outside the Namibian capital Windhoek into the ranks of the world's best athletes.

He hasn't forgotten those roots. Fredericks, perhaps uniquely among the 5,000-odd competitors at the Games, paid his own air fare to Manchester.

Why? Because he would rather the cash-strapped Namibian government put the money back into his home country.

He also gives generous financial support to youth programs in Namibia, receiving in return the adoration of his compatriots.

To complete the picture, he's also the only sprinter to be universally liked by his great rivals from down the years - Christie, Bailey and Ato Boldon.

Oh - and he's modest, too. Not for him the trash-talking of a Dennis Mitchell or the self-adoration of Carl Lewis.

"To come back to a world class stage and beat so many talented young athletes was something special," he said afterwards.

"I went through so much trouble. I feared I might be finished. This is one of the medals I will never forget."

With neat symmetry, both Fredericks and Campbell turned their backs on possible careers in professional football in favour of athletics.

While Campbell spent time on the books of Plymouth Argyle, Fredericks starred for Namibia's Black Africa. Both were glamourpuss strikers with more speed than skill.

Fredericks won this particular shoot-out. Campbell at least has the consolation of the European Championships next week to look forward to.

And Frankie? Might he take another pop at the world title in 12 months time?

"I'll do another winter," he says, "and then who knows what I can do next year?"


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