BRITISH athletics stunned its detractors into silence in Munich yesterday, winning the men's European Cup for only the second time with a 13-point win over Germany in the Olympic stadium.

Every member of the team over-performed, and so wide was the margin after five victories on yesterday's second day that the cup was secured before the 4 x 400m relay, but the squad was not to be upstaged, and the jubilant Brits, led off by individual 400m winner Roger Black, smashed the cup record.

Malcolm Arnold, UK director of performance who has insisted that Great Britain's athletics result in Atlanta - fourth among 197 countries - was undervalued, was jubilant, again claiming his sport to be the most successful in Britain.

''This means a lot,'' he said as Linford Christie carried the trophy to the British supporters in the stands after two remarkable wins on his valedictory appearance in a British vest. ''We have had our detractors - unwarrantedly - and defectors,'' added Arnold, referring to the women who quit the team in protest aginst poor lottery grants.

''But we have bounced back as the best sport, a sport to be invested in.''

Christie, at the age of 37, equalled his own cup record for 100m with 10.04sec on Saturday, and then added the 200m yesterday with the tightest of all his 13 cup victories. He was given a thunderous standing ovation by the Germans, who appropriately played Tina Turner's ''Simply The Best'' at maximum decibels as he took an emotional lap of honour.

Yet it was almost unlucky No.13. Drawn in lane seven, he seemed to have the race won when Georgios Panayiotopoulos stole up on his outside to share the winning time of 20.56.

''If I had been in a medal lane (not a cup, where lanes are drawn, rather than seeded on times) it would have been different. I just never saw the kid coming on the outside.''

Christie, who survived the photo to bring his European Cup wins to a record 17, including relays, added: ''This is the best send-off I could have wished for. I am going to miss it, but that is life - all good things must end.''

Self-inflicted cliches were in danger of trivialising the epitaph to such a glorious career with the banal, yet his performance over the two days was inspirational.

He had praise for the younger members of the team who rose to the occasion, especially the least probable, 25-year-old Rob Hough, from Sheffield. Making his Great Britain debut and tipped to finish no better than sixth in the 3000m steeplechase, Hough found himself approaching the final flight shoulder to shoulder with Alessandro Lambruschini.

Incredibly, despite clattering the barrier, it was Hough who emerged the winner, ahead of the Italian Olympic bronze medallist, reigning European champion, and winner of this event in the last four editions of the cup.

With each competitor feeding off his compatriots, keeping the pressure on the hosts was crucial. Steve Backley raised the intensity by pricking the confidence of the host's javelin favourite, Boris Henry, with a huge opening throw of 86.86m which proved decisive.

Jonathan Edwards was confident enough to experiment with a revised triple jump technique, staying more upright and going faster through the take off, and took only two jumps in a contest where field eventers were restricted to four attempts instead of six for the first time in a major competition, but he was a predictable winner with 17.74 metres.

It was the unheralded third place in the 800m, however, by Mark Sesa, and fourth by Andrew Pearson, who abandoned his bride of just five days on their honeymoon to break his personal best in the 5000m, who were equallly vital contributors.

''When I got the call I knew I would be on honeymoon, but you have to answer the call of your country," said Pearson, whose points made the outcome of the 4 x 400m academic. Told he had just won the European Cup, he just nodded and in his broad Yorkshire tones, said matter of fact: ''Oh, aye? Right. Oh, great!''

Colin Jackson recorded his fastest time this year, showing signs of recapturing former glories, despite defeat. The world record-holder led over the final flight, but was caught on the run-in by Florian Schwarthoff, timed at 13.28 to the German's 13.20.

Scotland's Ian Mackie and Doug Walker played their part in a relay squad which finished third, minus Christie, with the Fifer outdipped on the line by European 200m champion Geir Moen, but Mackie took part in a 100m race after the cup, and clocked 10.21 for 100m, his second fastest ever.

It was arguably Arnold's finest hour, yet as he he steered Britain to their first European victory under his leadership, he learned that his first protege, John Akii-Bua, who was imprisoned and tortured under the Idi Amin regime in Uganda, had died yesterday at the age of 47.

Winners and British places (GB unless stated): Saturday - Men. 100m: 1, L Christie 10.04sec (equals European Cup record, wind, +0.2 metres per second). 400m: 1, R Black 45.63. 1500m: 1, F Cacho (Spain) 3-37.79; 4, J Mayock 3-38.15. 3000m: 1, D Baumann (Germany) 7-41.08; 5, A Whiteman 7-57.65. 400m hurdles: 1, F Mori (Italy) 48.93; 5, C Rawlinson 51.06. High jump: 1, A Ortiz (Spain) 2.30m; 4, S Smith 2.26m. Long jump: 1, K Susunov (Russia) 8.00m; 6, S Phillips 7.62m. Shot: 1, S Buder (Germany) 20.41m; 5, M Proctor 18.65m. Hammer: 1, H Weis (Germany) 81.42m; 6, P Head 68.36. 4 x 100m: 1, Italy 38.80; 3, Great Britain (J Gardner, M Devonish, D Walker, I Mackie) 38.97.

Yesterday - Men. 200m: 1, L Christie and G Panayiotopoulos 20.56 (wind +0.7). 800m: 1, V Rodahl (Norway) 1min 47.89secs; 3, M Sesay 1-48.11. 5000m: 1, G di Napoli (Italy) 13-38.33; 4, A Pearson 13-40.16. 110m hurdles: 1, F Schwarthoff (Germany) 13.20; 2, C Jackson 13.28 (wind +0.2). 3000m steeplechase: 1, R Hough 8-35.03. Pole vault: 1, M Tarasov (Russia) 5.95m; 5, N Buckfield 5.50m. Triple jump: 1, J Edwards 17.74m. Discus: 1, L Riedel 63.36m; 2, R Weir 61.62m. Javelin: 1, S Backley 86.86m. 4 x 400m: 1, Great Britain (R Black 45.8, J Baulch 44.2, I Thomas 44.3, M Richardson 45.2) 2-59.46.

Match result: 1, Great Britain 118 points; 2, Germany 105; 3, Russia 104; 4, Italy 96; 5, Spain 78; 6, France 75, 7, Norway 72.5; 8, Greece 71.5.