Athletics: Cram back on track in natural habitat: Britons get set as combined AAA and world championship trials begin in Birmingham today

THIS weekend might have been a painful one for Steve Cram. But his resurgent run in the Oslo Dream Mile last Saturday, which finally convinced him to drop the idea of running the 5,000 metres at the World Championships, has simplified his task in the combined AAA Championships and world championship trials which start in Birmingham today.

Cram runs tonight in the heats of his natural event, the 1500m, knowing that he is in the form to win the final, even though the presence of Matthew Yates, David Strang and Simon Fairbrother makes that far from a formality.

Trial winners with a qualifying mark automatically earn places in Stuttgart - but with the 1500m qualifying time set this year by the International Amateur Athletic Federation at the testing figure of 3min 36.50sec, all concerned may find themselves searching for a fast race in the next week. AAA 1500m finals are usually a matter of a sprint finish after a cagey build-up. Only Kevin McKay has achieved the time, and he is absent with a post-viral syndrome.

Curtis Robb's decision not to take part has created an interesting situation in the 800m, where Tom McKean, the world indoor champion, Martin Steele, the fastest performer in the world this year with 1min 43.84sec, and David Sharpe, the World Cup champion from last season, could well fill the first three places. All three already have the qualifying time of 1min 46sec.

Robb, who has looked uncharacteristically weary in recent races, is suffering like McKay from post-viral syndrome - brought on in part, no doubt, by the exigencies of his medical training, which is currently obliging him to work long hours on the wards. Britain's 21-year-old Olympic finalist describes his position as 'a bit of a gamble'. He has received no selectorial assurances from either Andy Norman, the British promotions officer, or Frank Dick, the national director of coaching. In the sprints, Linford Christie intends to run both the 100 and 200 metres. No one is likely to catch him in either, given that John Regis, Britain's recognised No 1 at 200m, is believed to be planning only for the 100m in Birmingham.

Darren Campbell and Toby Box, the 20-year-old from Stockport who beat Christie to the line in last month's British Championships semi-final, will be striving for qualifying times in both sprints. Jason John, who has reduced his best 200m time from 20.89 to 20.50sec this season, will also run both distances, hoping to be in a position to choose one for Stuttgart.

Among those sharpening up in the 200m there should be the British 400m record holder David Grindley - assuming his sore left knee responds to physiotherapy this week.

Christie could become the first man since McDonald Bailey to win three successive AAA 100m titles. Britain's other Olympic champion, Sally Gunnell, drops down from her familiar 400m hurdles to the 100m hurdles event at which she won the Commonwealth title in 1986. She will be stretched to the limit by Jacqui Agyepong, the European Cup runner-up.

Eamonn Martin's prospects of taking up his World Championship 10,000 metres place appear healthy once again. He trained 'without any problem' yesterday after finishing fourth in the Corporate Challenge road race in Battersea Park on Wednesday night. It was his first race since he dropped out of the European Cup 10,000 metres with a foot injury.

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