ATHLETICS; Edwards takes the roller-blade route

JONATHAN EDWARDS wants to make it very clear that roller- blading in the Sierra Nevada, although it may sound like fun, was not fun at all, but very serious preparation for a season in which he intends to regain the world triple jump title.

Britain's world record holder is approaching this year with as much desire as at any time since he began triple jumping in earnest 16 years ago, and a large part of that is down to the novel methods of training he has engaged upon since having a foot operation last September.

Even before his triumphant return to top form at last summer's European Championships, Edwards, who turned 33 on Monday, was talking about the need to maintain mental freshness in what was a long career. Accordingly, he had arranged to work with the world javelin record holder, Jan Zelezny, and Britain's European gold medallist, Steve Backley, undertaking a schedule prepared by the Czech athlete's coach, Jan Popsipil.

Thus it was that Edwards found himself in Spain and on wheels shortly before Christmas, taking part in 400 metres repetitions alongside the javelin boys on a track high up in the mountains. "It's not fun," he said. "The drill has been worked out to improve muscle balance. It requires you to move a different muscle group than you need for running."

Although he is no mean talent as a javelin thrower - he has recorded 54 metres for his club - Edwards was not tempted to join Backley and Zelezny on the runway. But he did link up with them again in January for the second phase of his winter training programme, this time at a remote base 60 miles north of Johannesburg. The effect has been to launch him towards this season's competition in the kind of shape he found himself in four years ago, when a staggering sequence of jumps in the 1995 European Cup final at Lille presaged two world record efforts at that year's world championships.

"Training with Jan and Steve provided me with a different focus which has really helped with my preparation," he said. "I think I'm probably as motivated now as I've ever been, if not more so. I've been through all the upheavals of the sudden success I had four years ago and I feel I have learned some important lessons. The thing is, the next two years, with world championships and Olympics back-to-back, will never come again for me."

Edwards plans to compete once in Europe before taking part in this year's European Cup final at Paris on 19-20 June, a week before starting his domestic competition at the Gateshead Grand Prix.

He approaches this year buoyed by the memory of his European title win, and in particular his last-round effort of 17.99m. "That jump in Budapest was a horror, but to reach 17.99m with an effort like that really opened my eyes to what I could do," he said.

A ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport may have handed Doug Walker, Scotland's European 200 metres sprint champion, his best hope yet of being cleared following a positive drugs test. On Wednesday the court dismissed a similar case involving a Swiss triathlete, and Walker said yesterday the ruling "must cast doubt on the validity of these tests".

Walker was suspended by UK Athletics, the British governing body, at the end of March after he failed an out-of-competition test last December, analysis of which revealed traces of the banned anabolic steroid nandrolone.

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