Athletics: Christie back in form

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LINFORD CHRISTIE'S new season got off to a false start here yesterday. It did not matter at all.

The Olympic 100 metres champion, one of a relaxed gathering of leading British athletes taking part in a sunlit jamboree bag of an event under the operating title of the Pearl European Relays, was able to smile after running 70 metres of his opening leg in the medley relay only to be recalled.

When he did pass the baton to the man running the 200m leg, Darren Campbell, it was juggled, dropped and caught again to leave Britain's team in a hopeless position. Which merely provided the basking crowd of around 4,000 with an alternative spectacle on an afternoon which was largely akin to a long fly-past.

Not that the exercise was a worthless one. What mattered most to Christie, who will run over 200m in Rome this week before returning to his main event at next weekend's UK Championships, was that he got round without further bother from the back injury which took six weeks out of his winter training.

It has been a long time since Steve Cram won a race of note - not since October 1991, in fact - and he relished the feeling again here yesterday as he came home first in the invitation 3,000m.

His last important victory, a road mile in Jakarta, earned him close on dollars 50,000. This performance was less lucrative, but perhaps more valuable. As an opener to a season where he is - finally - concentrating on the 5,000m, it puts him in the right frame of mind for a serious challenge in the World Championships.

Cram was under some pressure to produce a good performance. His first move to the front, on the final back straight, was hesitant, allowing his friend and training partner Gary Staines to take the lead round the bend. But the world mile record holder gathered himself as of old to sprint home.

Cram's time was 7min 54.22sec; Eamonn Martin, the London marathon champion, finished strongly to take third place in 7:55.93.

There were only two British victories in the variety of relays - in the women's 4x400m, where Sally Gunnell ran, and the men's 4x110m hurdles.

The Britain's 4x800m team of Steve Heard, Matthew Yates, David Sharpe and Curtis Robb, who at one point had been talked of in connection with a world record attempt, struggled to third place behind Belarus.

As expected, the race for the women's AAA 10,000m title, which doubled as a trial for the world championships, failed to produce any immediate candidate to accompany Liz McColgan to Stuttgart. Vikki McPherson won in 33:49.29, well outside the qualifying time of 32:40, having broken away from the field in company with Laura Adam.