ATHLETICS: Collins eager to take on best of British

KIM COLLINS, the world and Commonwealth 100 metres champion, will take on Britain's Jason Gardener and Mark Lewis-Francis in the Norwich Union Grand Prix on 18 February at Birmingham's National Indoor Arena.

The St Kitts and Nevis athlete will also be challenging Maurice Greene, of the United States, and Portugal's Francis Obikwelu in the best 60m field assembled in the world this year. It promises to be an enthralling battle in Birmingham where Collins last competed two years ago when finishing runner-up in the World Indoor Championships.

"I'm looking forward to competing against such a strong field," Collins said. "Jason Gardener and Mark Lewis-Francis are Olympic gold medallists now and I'm sure they'll be aiming to win in front of their home supporters."

A leading sprint coach believes Gardener is right to feel he can smash the world indoor 60m record. Gardener said last month that although retaining his European indoor title remains his priority this winter, he also believes he has the ability to target Maurice Greene's global mark.

John Smith, who will be the United States head coach at this year's world outdoor championships, said: "Jason Gardener is probably one of the greatest indoor runners around."

Gardener is chasing a third successive European title in Madrid next month, but Smith added a note of caution about the Olympic 4x100m gold medallist's ambitions. "Maurice is a fierce competitor," said Smith, who coached Greene to the 2000 Olympic and three successive world 100m titles. "It will be a nice race [in Birmingham] and I'm really looking forward to it. Jason has the ability to break the world record."

Smith added: "It will be a tough test and will require some real interesting running. Maurice is training hard. But whether either can go that fast remains to be seen. Conditions and the attitude have to be right."

Sonia O'Sullivan yesterday confirmed she will look to regain her title in April's Great Bupa Ireland Run. The 35-year-old Irishwoman has entered the 9 April race at Dublin's Phoenix Park, as has her countryman Mark Carroll. For Carroll, the Irish record holder at three kilometres, 5km and 10km, it will be his debut in the mass participation 10km race.

But the challenge for O'Sullivan is to win the title which was won last year by Catherina McKiernan, who has since retired. "I understand she's had a solid winter's training down in Australia after recovering from a minor injury," said the race director, Matthew Turnbull. "Now it's a case of getting some other top women into the race."

Carroll has stepped up his form in recent weeks and in late January scored an impressive 3,000m victory over the leading American Alan Webb in Boston. Carroll will be facing stiff competition from the Australian Craig Mottram, winner in Dublin for the last two years.

Turnbull said: "Mottram's eager to complete a hat-trick. A great race is on the cards."

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