Athletics: Business for Akabusi: Fun relays provide curtain-raiser

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THE British track season begins at Portsmouth today with the Pearl European Relays meeting, a kind of jamboree bag which contains a mixture of novelties and tasty morsels.

Many of Britain's leading athletes will be called into unpressurised activity - Linford Christie runs the opening leg of a medley relay, Sally Gunnell goes in the 4x400 metres event, John Regis and Tony Jarrett take part in the 4x100m, and Colin Jackson in a 4x110m hurdles.

But the meeting has a little more significance for others. Kriss Akabusi, down to complete the medley relay over 400m, will be watched with greater interest now that he is a contender for Britain's European Cup 400m hurdles place, thrown open by Jon Ridgeon's Achilles tendon strain.

The invitation 3,000m gives Eamonn Martin, the London Marathon winner, the opportunity to test his athletic range as he prepares to challenge for a 10,000m place in this summer's world championships. Among his opponents is Steve Cram, now concentrating on 5,000m, whose keenly anticipated opening race of the season, against the Olympic 10,000m champion Khalid Skah in a 5km road race at Aberdeen, ended frustratingly as a calf twinge forced him to jog home in 12th place.

The women's 10,000m world championship trial, in which two places alongside the pre-selected Liz McColgan are on offer, may turn out to be an embarrassment. Injury, illness and inclination have ruled out Jill Hunter, Suzanne Rigg and Andrea Wallace. The remaining competitors will be pushed to gain the qualifying time of 32min 40sec.

A field events match between Britain, Hungary and Italy will give Jonathan Edwards, in the triple jump, Mick Hill, in the javelin, and Dalton Grant, in the high jump, an early guide to their form. Worryingly, however, Britain's Olympic javelin bronze medallist Steve Backley is not fit to compete, as he is receiving treatment on his throwing shoulder.