Athletics: Christie and Gunnell confirm their class: Backley throws himself back into contention among the spear-carriers while Jackson and Murray race away from the opposition

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SOME comforting certainties, and one surprising new possibility, brought renewed confidence to the British camp in last night's TSB Games here with the world championships looming less than three weeks away.

Linford Christie, preparing for next week's pounds 200,000 head-to-head 100m with Carl Lewis, got in the mood by beating the American's Santa Monica team-mate Leroy Burrell, while Colin Jackson maintained his unbeaten run this season with a comfortable victory over the Olympic silver medallist, Tony Dees. But there was other good news of an unexpected kind as Steve Backley, throwing in the arena where he broke the world javelin record three years, made a successful return from a long-term shoulder injury in his first competition since winning a bronze medal in last year's Olympics. And the evening finished with a flourish as Yvonne Murray and Sally Gunnell set all-comers' records in the 3,000m and 400m hurdles respectively, either side of a 1500m victory by the AAA champion, Matthew Yates, which also brought him his required world championship qualifying time of 3min 36.50sec.

Christie had Burrell, the world silver medallist, on his right, but it was the American on his left, the World Student Games champion, Jon Drummond, who gave him the greater problem as he held a lead which the Olympic champion only overtook in the final 15 metres, finishing in 10.27sec.

Afterwards, the boxing-style promotion of next week's run in Gateshead developed nicely from the sponsors' point of view. 'There will only be one winner next week, and it won't be Carl,' said Christie, who added he would have been prepared to put his money where his mouth was by seeing the event as a winner-takes-all.

Lewis, who is training in Houston, responded to yet another assertion of imminent defeat with practised ease. 'I've been hearing that sort of thing for 15 years,' he said. 'I haven't raced Linford for two years, but my record against him is pretty solid.' At 12-1, it certainly is.

Jackson looked as smooth as ever in winning his 12th 110m hurdles race of the season in 13.20sec, while John Regis added to the general air of confidence in the sprint distances with a 200m victory in 20.60sec.

Backley was understandably conservative in his run-up before producing his first throw in competition since taking the bronze medal in lst year's Olympics. He puffed out his cheeks as the spear flew out to the utterly comforting distance of 84.64m - well over the world qualifying mark of 79m, not that Backley needed that, and more importantly, well into resepctability.

After a foul on his second throw, he bettered it with 85.10 before pulling out while the going was good. 'I was happy to have gone over 80m,' he said. 'I didn't want to do any more tonight.' He did enough to take second place behind the Olympic champion and world record holder, Jan Zelezny, who threw 86.78.

Yates had expected to be joined by Steve Cram in the search for a qualifying time, but the 32-year-old world mile record holder dropped out at short notice, saying that he wanted to concentrate on achieving his target on home territory at Gateshead.

Despite getting briefly boxed in on the back straight, Yates ran an astute race, entering the home straight in third position and moving through on the outside to take first place from Johan Landsman, of South Africa. Both were timed at 3.35.83.

Gunnell's victory, over a field which included the world No 3, Kim Batten, was a thing of beauty. She hurdled flawlessly to win in 53.85sec, a time only she has beaten this year. After her muted performance in Nice on Wednesday, she thought it worth raising both arms on the line.

Murray tracked Elana Meyer, South Africa's Olympic 10,000m silver medallist, before striding clear in the back straight and finishing 15 metres clear in 8min 32.62sec.

Curtis Robb did enough to show fitness in chasing home Martin Steele in the 800m, although both trailed Jose Luis Barbosa, of Brazil, who won in 1min 45.80sec.

But there were disappointing performances for two other Britons selected for Stuttgart. Rob Denmark, the European 5,000m champion, finished an isolated sixth behind five Africans in a time of 13min 23.52sec after Kenya's William Sigei had won a sprint to the line in 13min 14.33. 'I blew up,' Denmark said. 'I think maybe the class of the field scared me a bit.'

David Grindley, suffering from a heavy cold, struggled to fourth place in the 400m behind the Olympic champion, Quincy Watts, who won in 44.78.

(Photograph omitted)