A win in the old style

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The Independent Online
SALLY GUNNELL'S last 10 metres were the best here yesterday as she welcomed her first win in 18 months with a broadening grin and a flip of her right arm. "That felt good," she said, after earning full points for Britain in the McDonald's International against France.

A time of 53.28sec in the 400 metres secured her first victory since she anchored the relay team home at the World Cup in September 1994. It was a significant step away from the wasteland of injury she has traversed since then and towards the retention of her Olympic 400m hurdles title this summer.

"Winning is what keeps me there," she said. "It's what I need." But she confessed that her form in her previous two races - a disqualification in Birmingham and last place in Moscow - had caused her to be "very nervous" before the start. As she overtook Marie-Louis Bevis around the last bend, however, she looked her old, set-jawed self.

In the equivalent men's event, Du'Aine Ladejo, the 1994 European indoor and outdoor champion, also relished a long-awaited victory. Like Gunnell, he also missed virtually all of last year through injury, and - save for one win in California last summer - he had waited almost as long to cross the line first.

Ladejo, who finished 10 metres clear in 46.39sec, looks eminently capable of defending his European indoor title next month. "That was just off my indoor personal best," he said. A vital byproduct of competing in Stockholm will be the racing experience. "Running a heat, a semi-final and a final will help me get rid of my race-rustiness," he added.

He had a further run-out in anchoring the relay team to a victory which secured the overall match for Britain, although his showy antics with the baton and apparent mockery of his opponent drew several uneasy boos from the crowd.

Ladejo's training partner Jason John presented the selectors who will meet on Tuesday with a potentially difficult choice when he won the invitation 60m in 6.59sec, the fourth fastest in Europe this year.

Jason Gardener is virtually assured of a place, after his victory against Russia earlier this month in 6.55sec, but there will be debate over the second place with Darren Braithwaite, the world indoor silver medallist of last year, and Mike Rosswess, European indoor bronze medallist in 1994, also in contention.

John Regis, disqualified for running out of his lane in Lievin last Sunday as Frankie Fredericks lowered the world 200m record to 19.92sec, won here in 20.88. And thankfully he didn't step out of line.

Gunnell was not the only British woman to excel. Although Melanie Neef withdrew from the 200 metres because of injury, maximum points came from Denise Lewis, who won the long jump with a personal best6.48m; Debbi Marti, who won the high jump with 1.89m; Bev Kinch, who took the 60 metres in 7.33sec; and Kate Staples, who raised her British indoor pole vault record to 3.85m.

Such is the rapid development at the top of this new women's event that her mark is not in the top 10 this year. But Staples, who has only recently got back into proper training following the death of her father, was buoyant. "This is just me getting off the blocks," she said.