Athletics: British men on the right track for top honours

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BRITAIN will never have their revenge for the controversial defeat by the Soviet Union in the last European Cup final. The decision not to disqualify the Soviet 4 x 400 metres relay team for running out of their lane in Frankfurt two years ago - despite the television evidence - prevented the British men from retaining the cup, writes Mike Rowbottom.

But there is no Soviet Union with which to compete in Rome this weekend. Instead, Russia and Ukraine will be among the eight other countries in the Olympic stadium, and the dilution of talent that implies could create the opportunity for Britain to repeat their high-profile victory at Gateshead in 1989. The Italians, however, are in with a good chance on their home soil.

The biennial competition, which was established in 1965 to enable a variety of European countries to experience the sport at top level, has become an annual one from this year. That is bound eventually to weaken its significance and its fields. But this year Britain are putting out a men's side who look capable of winning for the second time.

The women's team have hopes of finishing just outside the top three, despite the jolt of Thursday's withdrawal from the 10,000m of Liz McColgan with hamstring trouble and the hectic search for a replacement which ended with Suzanne Rigg, who ran a hard 10,000m last Sunday, and another race in Peterborough on Wednesday. Sometimes, though, these setbacks can work positively; Rigg's unselfishness may have a generally encouraging effect.

Kriss Akabusi, persuaded out of international retirement following the injury to Jon Ridgeon, may struggle for victory in the opening men's track event, the 400m hurdles, as he has managed on the last two occasions.

But Linford Christie, the Olympic champion and team captain, should rise to his responsibilities with a fourth cup win over 100m, the second track event, even though his season has got off to a tentative start because of an intermittent back injury. Daniel Sangouma, of France, and Aleksandr Porkhomovskiy, of Russia, should get closest to him.

Tom McKean's chances of winning a record fifth consecutive title at 800m depend on how quickly he can sharpen up after his defeat at Belfast last weekend in his opening run of the season.

Other potential winners for the British men are John Regis at 200m - providing the knee problem that put his place in doubt earlier this week holds up - David Grindley over 400m, Rob Denmark in the 5,000m - assuming Salvatore Antibo does not draw inspiration from the Olympic Stadium atmosphere - Steve Smith in the high jump and Colin Jackson in the 110m hurdles, as well as both relay teams.

Mick Hill, whose personal best in the javelin, achieved earlier this month, stands at 86.94m, should earn second place behind Jan Zelezny, the Czech Olympic champion and world record-holder.

Sally Gunnell is likely to provide Britain's women with maximum points in the 400m hurdles, but her colleagues will be hard pushed to add to it amid strong opposition from Russia, Ukraine, Romania and, despite a dramatically reduced effectiveness, Germany. Yvonne Murray will do well to gain better than second place at the 1,500m, one down from her specialist event.

(Table omitted)

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