WHENEVER HE flies the flag of the organisation which helped to make him the fastest member of the human race, Maurice Greene likes to tell the world that HSI does not just stand for Hudson Smith International. "It also means Handling Speed Intelligently," he says. The motto could well be adopted by Steve Platt. Handling speed intelligently is very much the prime concern of the man who has made Mark Lewis-Francis the hottest young property in the sprinting world.
"The most important thing with Mark at the moment is to treat him with kid gloves," Platt said. "That is why we're only training a maximum of four times a week. By the time some athletes get to Mark's age they are burnt out, finished. I've seen it a few times before."
Linsey Macdonald and Ade Mafe, Olympic finalists at 16 and 17 respectively, are two examples who spring readily to mind. Lewis- Francis himself could have been an Olympian at 17, of course, and the fact that he withdrew his name from consideration for the British track-and-field team in Sydney bore testimony to Platt's shrewd guidance.
Ever since he realised he had a potential world-beater on his hands - and Lewis-Francis' blistering natural speed was pretty much apparent from the moment his father took him along to a Birchfield Harriers training night at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham six years ago - Platt has handled his prodigy with extreme care.
Each yearly increase in training load and each annual target has been taken in small, calculated increments - and without ever losing sight of the long-term big picture. It will be the same this summer, even though the wonder boy from Darlaston, near West Bromwich, has made his mark in the man's world now.
"Is he really 17?" a stunned Greene enquired when Lewis-Francis clocked the fastest 100m time at the Crystal Palace Grand Prix meeting last August, winning the B race in 10.10sec - a time the American did not achieve until the age of 23. Lewis-Francis, in fact, is 18 now - and the proud possessor of a world indoor championship medal.
Having missed Sydney to concentrate on the world junior championships in Santiago last October, and duly taking the 100m crown in Chile, he stuck a toe in senior championship waters in Lisbon two months ago and emerged with the 60m bronze medal, clocking 6.51sec, a world junior record, behind the Americans Tim Harden and Tim Montgomery. He does not, however, intend to get out of his depth this summer.
There has been talk of breaking into the sub 10-second club, even of the Sandwell College student challenging for a medal at the outdoor world championships in Edmonton in August. Not by Lewis- Francis or by Platt, though.
As Lewis-Francis prepares for his first domestic date of the new season, the Aqua-Pura International at Loughborough a week today, he insists his principal point of focus this summer will be the European junior (under 20) championships, which take place in Grosseto, Italy, in July. …