Athletics: `Big Supes' turns silver into gold

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YESTERDAY EUROPE, today the world. Wins by Jamie Baulch and Ashia Hansen on the final day of the World Indoor Championships here completed Britain's best ever performance in this event as the impetus of last year's European Championship success was maintained.

Taking in Colin Jackson's 60 metres hurdles victory on Friday, Britain's total of gold medals rose to three, one more than their previous best in Toronto six years ago. No other country won more golds here. And with additional bronze medals from the 400m relay and the 60m, where Jason Gardener broke Linford Christie's four-year-old European record, the team secured fourth place in the medals table.

Both Baulch and Hansen had won silver the last time these championships were held two years ago in Paris. Yesterday they went one better with impressive displays of self-belief.

One moment of decision as the runners broke from their lanes after 150 metres allowed Baulch to become the first Briton to win a global 400m title since Eric Liddell took the Olympic gold 75 years ago.

Having earned a favourable place in lane five as fastest qualifier, Baulch, who had started conservatively, swooped down from the banking and accelerated into the lead through a narrowing gap.

"Getting to the bell first is crucial indoors," he said. "If you don't dominate the race by then the chances are very limited. I knew I had to get in first, relax down the back straight and leave something left for the finish, and I'm just so happy that I did it."

His winning time of 45.73sec was slower than he had run as a 23 year old in Paris, where he was overtaken in the final straight after starting too quickly. But his performance this time was that of a mature competitor.

Baulch gave much of the credit for that transformation to Christie, who has coached him for two years. "He has made an amazing contribution," Baulch said. "My mental power is so much better than it used to be. I wasn't scared this time like I had been in Paris. I'm better tactically now, and I kept my cool." Minutes after his victory, Baulch took a call on a mobile phone from Christie, who had set his alarm for 5.30 in the morning back home in Iver Heath.

Grinning like a satyr, the Welshman then announced that he had an additional title to world champion - "Big Supes." He explained: "Whenever Linford answers his mobile, he says, `Yo, Big Supes' - Supes meaning superstar. He just called me that now, so I'm quite proud."

Big Supes II also anchored the relay team to a British record of 3min 3.20sec behind the United States and Poland, thus bringing his earnings for the day to $52,266 (pounds 32,600) - $50,000 for winning the 400m and a sixth share of the $15,000 given to the relay squad.

Much of the money will be ploughed straight back into his training for the outdoor world championships. After spending a week back home in Cardiff with his partner Suzannah and their four-year-old son, Jay, he will return for further warm weather work in Australia, where he had prepared for this championship.

Hansen's plans are also in fine shape after the disruptions of last year, when, after winning the European indoor triple jump title in a world record of 15.16 metres, she missed most of the summer with a heel injury.

An opening effort of 15.02 proved sufficient to defeat a field which included all her major rivals, although Iva Prandzheva, of Bulgaria, and Sarka Kasparkova, of the Czech Republic, came perilously close with jumps of 14.94 and 14.87 metres respectively.

As her lead narrowed, Hansen sat cross-legged beside the runway with every appearance of serenity. It was a false impression. "I may have looked cool, but I wasn't," she said. "My nerves were frayed.

"When Prandzheva jumped 14.94 I thought, `God, that's enough to win it!' I came here to break my world record so I'm a bit disappointed about that. But it doesn't matter how far I jump, I'll always be craving for more."

In the end, her tactic of putting pressure on her opponents right from the start paid off. Her next plan involved returning to her room to drink the champagne she had brought over from England. "I thought it would be good to drink if I won," she said. "And if I didn't, I could get plastered." It will no doubt have tasted sweet and bubbly.

Gardener, who failed to qualify for last year's European Championships, finally earned the kind of reward his talents merit with a 60m time of 6.46sec, 0.01 inside the mark Christie set in 1995.

The 23 year old from Bath finished behind two Americans - world record holder Maurice Greene, who won in 6.42, and Tim Harden, who recorded 6.43. But Gardener felt he might have done even better if he had not, as he put it, "fallen out of his blocks".

Haile Gebrselassie, world record holder at 5,000 and 10,000m, emphasised his position as a peerless middle distance runner by adding the 1500m title to the 3000m gold he had won on the opening day. Nobody has matched that range of accomplishment since 1928, when Paavo Nurmi, the Flying Finn, added the Olympic 10,000m title to the 1500 and 5000m titles he had won four years earlier.

Steve Smith, making his international return after recovering from a serious neck injury, failed to clear his opening height of 2.25 metres. Javier Sotomayor, of Cuba, continued business as usual, a height of 2.36 earning him his fourth gold at these championships.

Results, Digest, page 9