Athletics: Backley turns back clock to rediscover best form

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STEVE BACKLEY will compete in the Stade Louis II in Monte Carlo tonight with a rising sense of excitement about his prospects in the forthcoming World Championships.

Although Backley, three times European javelin champion, performed relatively disappointingly in Stockholm on Friday night, he believes he is on the brink of finding his best form. "Steve told me after Stockholm that he felt he was tantalisingly close to getting things running smoothly and throwing a long way. That might happen in Monte Carlo," said Backley's long-time coach, John Trower, yesterday.

Backley began the season in poor form but his performance in last month's British trials, where he won in 87.59m, gave an indication of what he is capable of once his technique is running smoothly. Backley almost delivered on his pre-trials promise when he reached out close to 90 meters with his opening throw of the competition, only to foul out when he put his toe an inch over the line. "The great thing right now is that the guys who were doing well earlier in the season are not pulling up any trees," Trower said. "They will all know that Steve is always motivated by major championships. The jungle drums will be beating about what he did in Birmingham.

"He feels he is so close to getting things right it is really exciting for him. But the reason he's competing in Monte Carlo, and at Crystal Palace on Saturday, and, probably, in Zurich on 11 August is that he needs to get stuck in and find out what makes it jump. He needs competition, rather than training."

During the winter, Backley has worked at his physical conditioning in a group run by the coach of the world and Olympic champion, Jan Zelezny. That training, on occasions, has involved rollerblading on an athletics track in order to work on balance and endurance. Backley knows that the difference between throwing adequately and excellently is a fine one, and he is pressing hard to find his edge before the World Championships begin in Seville on 21 August.

Backley's British teammates Kelly Holmes and Colin Jackson will also be seeking to measure their progress towards Seville in the 800m and 110m hurdles respectively.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect to tonight's meeting, the fourth of seven scheduled IAAF Golden League events, will be the appearance - or possibly non-appearance - of France's Olympic 200m and 400m champion Marie- Jose Perec, who is expected to make a reappearance at a major international meeting after two years out suffering from the debilitating Epstein-Barr virus.

Perec was due to make her comeback on home ground in Paris last month, but pulled out at the last minute, apparently with cold feet. But in the space of the last week she has returned to the track, running at a minor meeting in Finland and then taking part in Monday's event at Malmo, where she ran the 200m in 23.57sec.

n The American sprinter Dennis Mitchell was suspended for two years yesterday after the arbitration panel of the International Amateur Athletic Federation, sitting in Monte Carlo, ruled he was guilty of a doping offence. The IAAF said that the 1992 Olympic 100 metres bronze medallist would be suspended from 1 April, 1998 - the date of the original test - to 31 March, 2000. All performances achieved by Mitchell during that period were declared void.