Athletics: Britain's fast men impress Greene

Athletics: American world 100m record holder praises the young contenders for Christie's mantle at Birmingham

MAURICE GREENE is waiting along the line for Britain's new generation of sprinters. The American world 100 metres record holder was in London yesterday to publicise his appearance at the British Grand Prix on 7 August, which will precede the more pressing engagement of the World Championships by a couple of weeks. But this weekend in Birmingham, Britain's fastest movers have some private business to sort out before they contemplate the forthcoming challenges of Crystal Palace and Seville.

Greene spoke yesterday of his respect for the attitude of the 23-year- old who leads the British rankings this year, following the 9.98sec he recorded in Lausanne last month.

"I saw Jason [Gardener] compete against Ato Boldon in Lausanne and the guy had no fear. I was very impressed," said Greene. "He didn't care what the field was, he just did his job. A man who concentrates solely on himself is always dangerous. He's improving all the time and has a great future. I see a lot of good things in him and there's no reason why he can't also break records some day."

The American, however, refuses to acknowledge a possibility that he has pushed himself to his own limits in the event. "Every time I step onto the track I believe I'll go under 10 seconds," he said. "A quality field like the one at Crystal Palace will only bring out the best in me. I believe I can go a lot faster. My goal is 9.76 and I believe I am capable of running that this year. There's no limit on how quick I can go."

Greene accepts that a large part of the credit for his achievements lie with his coach, John Smith, and training partner, Ato Boldon. "John and Ato have helped revolutionise my career," he said. "Ato is the only other sprinter I can take advice from and John is like a father figure to me. I would never have run a world record if it wasn't for them."

There is still a long way to go for the young Britons before they reach the level Greene and Boldon are currently running at. But the competition in Birmingham this weekend at the CGU World Trials and AAA Championship might yet push one of them a step closer. On paper, the first three 100m runners to cross the line at the Alexander Stadium will be, in order, Gardener, then Dwain Chambers, who has clocked 9.99, and the European champion, Darren Campbell, who recently improved his 1999 best to 10.11 in breaking the British League record held by his coach and mentor, Linford Christie.

The former world and Olympic champion dominated these championships, collecting six successive gold medals in the short sprint between 1991 and 1996. No Briton has reached his levels of performance since he retired in 1997, but there has been a huge improvement generally to the point where there may be up to six realistic challengers for the three World Championship places on offer this weekend. Apart from the leading trio, there is the Scotsman who ended Christie's winning run in 1997, Ian Mackie, who is returning from injury. He only clocked 10.49 in winning the Scottish title on 26 June, but since then the only Briton to have defeated Christie twice over 100m in recent years has had time to improve.

Then there is Marlon Devonish, who has a 10.17 timing to his name this season and talent and youth on his side. Two more experienced contenders, Jason Livingston and Marcus Adam - who won the Commonwealth 200m title back in 1990 - are also capable of raising their game just to spite the youngsters.

On paper, the order should be clear - but then things rarely work out so neatly. Ask Roger Black. Last year he lost out on the third 400m place for the European Championships after Solomon Wariso produced an inspired run to reduce his personal best to 44.68. Black will be at Birmingham again this weekend - but he will watch from the stands as he helps present the BBC's coverage.

Although the event is also lacking the European and Commonwealth champion, Iwan Thomas, who is recovering from an ankle injury, Mark Richardson, Britain's clear No 1 so far this season, will receive challenges from Jamie Baulch, 1994 European champion Du'aine Ladejo, back on the 400m scene from the decathlon, and, of course, Wariso, for whom no predictions can ever safely be made. The man who was disqualified for running out of his lane in the European Championships final is always an unpredictable competitor.

There is an unpredictability, too, about the 800m event, in which the main interest centres on Curtis Robb's return to top-class running. Robb, who made a dramatic breakthrough when he reached the 1992 Olympic final at the age of 20, has only raced seriously once since 1996, when he won the British Universities' indoor 800m title in 1997. But this winter he has decided to take a break from his medical studies to work towards and appearance at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Robb, who has overcome longstanding injury problems involving his pelvis, indicated his enduring potential in Riga last week when he recorded 1min 45.51sec for the 800m, to put him top of the British rankings. Had Robb produced that time at the European Cup in Paris last month he would have won by more than three seconds.

Despite the disappointment following the withdrawal with injury of Britain's two triple jump world record holders, Jonathan Edwards and Ashia Hansen, there are many of Britain's most popular athletes on show, including the European champion, Steve Backley, who takes part in a javelin event that could see David Parker, Britain's world junior champion, move closer to the big league.

In the women's events, Kelly Holmes will be seeking to maintain her momentum with a run in either the 800m or the 1,500m. If it is the latter, that should mean an interesting struggle with Hayley Tullett, the 20-year-old who finished fourth at last month's European Cup final.

The other highlights are likely to include the 400m, where Katharine Merry will be seeking to make an impact having decided to move up to one-lap running from the 200m. The 800m is likely to prove an emotionally testing occasion for former Commonwealth champion, Diane Modahl, whose battle for compensation for her 1994 doping ban received a major setback in the House of Lords yesterday.

THREE CLOSE CONTESTS IN PROSPECT AT BIRMINGHAM

MEN'S 100 METRES

The Three Musketeers of British sprinting - Jason Gardener (above), Dwain Chambers and Darren Campbell - will fight out their own private duels to determine who is the British No 1. But the key thing for all of them is to ensure a top-three place and so ensure an appearance at the World Championships in Seville.

MEN'S 400 METRES

Mark Richardson, who leads the British rankings with 44.53 this season, should be untroubled in earning the title, but Jamie Baulch, who has run 44.82 this year, could mount a challenge, as could the unpredictable Solomon Wariso (above), Mark Hylton and Du'aine Ladejo, who has returned from the decathlon.

WOMEN'S 100 METRES

Joice Maduaka (above) has improved her best from 11.76 last year to 11.24 at last month's European Cup. Can she get any closer to Kathy Cook's 1981 UK record of 11.10sec? Christine Bloomfield and another rising young talent, Shani Anderson, could provide the competition for another improvement.

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