The familiar gold-toothed smile returned to the face of Britain’s Dwain
Chambers on a chilly night in Moscow yesterday. All season, the man so
forgotten that he was billed in the souvenir programme as “Dwight Chambers”
has been telling anyone who will listen that he despises finishing in second
place, but yesterday he was made to eat his words.

In the richest 100 metres in athletics history, the Londoner was beaten to
the line by the American upstart Justin Gatlin, but this time he was not

While Gatlin, the 21-year-old world indoor champion, claimed an
unprecedented $500,000 (£300,000) for crossing the line in first place, the
$125,000 consolation prize for Chambers was more than he could have hoped
for after a season that had gone into free fall during the post-traumatic
stress of his crushing defeat at the World Championships this summer.

While Gatlin was overjoyed by the realisation that he had just made around
$50,000 a second for his night’s work, Chambers was also punching the air.
There is nothing like a six-figure sum to ease the pain of an infuriatingly
inconsistent season as he goes away to plot his campaign for next year’s

“The money will definitely help,” said the 26-year-old. “It’s been a
difficult season but I’ve learnt a lot. I need to review a lot of things
about what happened, but I’ll be back.”

If Chambers was the second-happiest man in Russia last night, his agent,
Jonathan Barnett, was not far behind. It was Barnett, the chairman of the
Stellar Group, who conceived the idea of a big-money end-of-season bash and
in the Moscow authorities, keen to project their city as an entrepreneurial
sporting capital, he found eager allies with a large chequebook.

The result was a ground-breaking meeting, with prize money to rival the golf
or tennis circuits, interlaced with a theatrical show that Barnett believes
could revolutionise the way the sport is staged in years to come.

A total of 57 of the world’s top athletes, including seven world champions,
were persuaded to delay their end-of-season holidays by the chance to earn a
slice of a staggering prize fund of $1.5 million spread across just eight
events. But if they thought this was just about lining their pockets at
another Grand Prix-style meeting, they were in for a shock.

In what was described as a three-hour fusion of sport and live
entertainment, the stars of track and field found themselves alternating
with rock bands, opera singers, choirs and dancers in a brash, high-decibel
show that Barnett hopes will become a blueprint for a new global athletics
circuit aimed at ‘sexing up’ the sport.

It may not amuse those traditionalists who complained that this summer’s
World Championships in Paris were undermined by the loud music blasting out
of the tannoy system, but anyone who sat through the dreary, sparsely
attended World Athletics Final in Monaco last week - it was illuminated only
by German pole-vaulter Tim Lobinger’s mooning antics - will know that the
sport is in dire need of a shot in the buttocks.

The signs are that the athletes are fully behind the innovations, even if
that means sharing the bill with sabre dancers and some Russian singers who
would have Simon Cowell reaching for his Kalashnikov.

“This is exactly the type of thing that many athletes have been calling
for,” said sprinter Kim Collins, whose enthusiasm was doubtless heightened
by the fact that roughly half the prize fund had been earmarked for his

The organisers were in no mood to let sexual equality get in the way of a
good show, and the proof was in the fact that Chryste Gaines’s achievement
in winning the women’s 100m was valued at $430,000 less than Gatlin’s.

Indeed, the way the prize money was distributed was one of the more baffling
aspects of the proceedings. In the men’s 1500m, world athlete of the year
Hicham El Guerrouj earned $50,000 for winning a thrilling race on the line
from Kenya’s Paul Korir, as did the unstoppable Maria Mutola in the women’s
800m. Curiously, though, Swedish triple-jumper Christian Olsson’s
predictable victory in a tame competition contested by just five athletes
was deemed worthy of a $60,000 cheque.

Less baffling is the reason why the Moscow authorities should have agreed to
stump up such huge sums for an end-of-season meeting that failed to generate
a single inquiry from European broadcasters.

Throughout the World Championships in Paris, the French organisers
studiously avoided mentioning their bid to stage the 2012 Olympics for fear
of falling foul of the tough new International Olympic Committee rules
forbidding candidate cities from promoting their campaigns, and the ‘O’ word
was equally off limits at this year’s World Indoor Championships in
Birmingham as London prepared to announce its bid.

The Russians, facing an uphill battle to overhaul the likes of Paris,
London, New York and Madrid, are not so shy, however. On the opening page of
the programme, Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, made a direct link when he
wrote that “The Moscow Challenge is a first step on the way to the Olympic
Games that Russia hopefully may host in 2012” and sports minister Vyacheslav
Fetisov continued the Olympic theme during his opening ceremony speech.

But for Barnett, whose Russian connections include helping to broker Roman
Abramovich’s takeover of Chelsea, last night was simply about dragging the
sport into the modern era. “All I’m doing is trying to bring a bit of
excitement to the sport. If you look at events like the AAAs, they just
don’t have any glamour. This is the start of something new.” The purists
have been warned.