Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Vernicha Takes Heart from Rebel Alliance

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Vernicha Takes Heart from Rebel Alliance

Article excerpt


WHILE Britain has been able to boast of a succession of world-class male sprinters for more than 20 years, the quest to find a female equivalent has been a long and largely fruitless one.

So, little wonder then that everyone is getting very excited about Vernicha James, a south Londoner who turned 18 only two weeks ago but is threatening to rewrite the record books. She is already the country's top 200-metres runner and will represent Britain for the first time at the European Cup in Annecy, France, this weekend.

James appears to be on an inexorable rise to the top. She is the European junior champion and demonstrated her huge potential when she easily won the 200m at the Commonwealth trials in the new City of Manchester Stadium.

James has been marked out as a potential superstar since she won her first English schools' title aged 12. Yet even she admits she was on the verge of throwing it all away because of her attitude.

If it had not been for her mother and a chance meeting in Debenhams, things might have turned out very differently.

Sheila James was working in the department store when she recognised a familiar face among the shoppers. It was John Regis, the former European 200m champion, and his partner and she approached the pair to seek advice about her daughter.

The woman was Regis' girlfriend and 1992 Olympic 4x400m bronze medallist Jennifer Stoute, although possibly better known to Vernicha's generation as 'Rebel' from the television show Gladiators.

'Rebel' would have been an appropriate monicker for the headstrong James.

She said: "I used to be really rude. If someone stepped up to me to say something, I'd just attack. I'd just start fighting."

Luckily, Stoute agreed to visit James and the two hit it off immediately.

"In the beginning, I spoke to her a lot about school," recalls Stoute. "She was very aggressive, but it was the only way she knew how to express herself.

I tried to get Vernicha to understand what was happening in these fights. She did it to stay popular. But afterwards it was always her who got into trouble, no-one else. …

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