Athletics: Gardener glowing in the wind

World Championship trials: Jason proves best of British as Chambers pays for stumbling start
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FROM THE main stand of the Alexander Stadium, the jammed stretch of the nearby M6 was clearly visible yesterday afternoon. Congestion was evident, too, on the Birmingham track. British athletics has never had so many speedsters in the world-class fast lane.

The race for pole position in the 100m at the combined GCU world trials and AAA championships drove Jason Gardener to victory in a wind-assisted 10.02 sec. Dwain Chambers suffered starting trouble but closed on his rival all the way to the line, finishing runner-up in 10.07. Darren Campbell was not exactly left on the hard shoulder, though the fact that the European champion of last summer could finish only third in his own back lane confirmed that Britain can truly consider itself a formula one sprinting nation.

There have been British speed merchants of global prominence before, of course - Alf Downer, Harald Abrahams, McDonald Bailey, Peter Radford, Allan Wells, Linford Christie - but never so many at one time. "Everyone's been pushed to another level," Gardener said. And Chambers, despite his disappointment, acknowledged: "It's a brilliant situation for all of us. We're all pushing each other and the great thing is we've got an awesome relay team now. I honestly think we could beat the Americans at the world championships."

It was Gardener who inspired the greatest awe yesterday, bolting from the blocks, shooting clear of the field by the 30m mark and maintaining his form even as Chambers - in effect beaten by his hesitant start - bore down on him. Not that Gardener, who also beat Chambers in the semi-finals, was entirely happy. "To run that fast in the AAAs is a bit special," he said, "but I wouldn't say it was a great performance. I lost my rhythm a bit before the end."

Chambers, naturally, was even less content. "I just wanted to win the race really badly," he said. "Perhaps I focused on that too much."

Gardener has yet to represent Great Britain as a 100m runner at a senior major championship, but he will travel to Seville next month as a force with whom the favourites will have to reckon. The Bath Spa University student made his high-speed presence felt at the world indoor championships in Maebashi in March, taking the 60m bronze medal behind Maurice Greene and Tim Harden and relieving Linford Christie of the European record.

His smooth, graceful style contrasts with Chambers' dynamic, all-action approach - hands splaying outwards and huge strides bounding skywards. But they are a well-matched pair, refreshingly relaxed and self-effacing. They are scorchingly quick too, having broken through the 10 seconds barrier this summer - Gardener with 9.98 sec, Chambers with 9.99 - to stand second and third respectively behind Linford Christie on the European all-time ranking list.

It is not just the profusion of sprinting talent that is so encouraging for the health of British athletics, nor that the parochial rivalry promises to be as gripping as the golden middle- distance days of Ovett, Coe and Cram. At 21, 23 and 25 respectively, Chambers, Gardener and Campbell can expect their best years to lie ahead of them. They can also expect to be casting glances over their shoulders at the even younger pretenders following swiftly in their spikemarks."

Christian Malcolm was absent from the Alexander Stadium yesterday, saving his speed for the European under-23 championships in Gotheburg on Thursday. But the Welshman, 20 last month, has clocked 10.12sec for 100m and 20.29 for 200m and is the world junior champion at both. Mark Lewis-Francis is even younger - 16 - and the West Bromwich schoolboy has already run 10.38. Christie was not as quick until he was 26.

Christie was not so much looking over his shoulder yesterday as gazing down from the main stand, wondering how long it might be before his British record - the 9.87 sec that won him the world title in 1993 - comes under serious threat. Kathy Cook was five miles up the A34 at Aldridge - at home, looking after her three children. But, given further evidence at the Alexander Stadium of Joice Maduaka's relentless progress, the British women's 100m record Cook set in Rome 18 years ago is living on borrowed time.

Maduaka - like Chambers, a protege of Mike McFarlane, the joint 1982 Commonwealth 200m champion - started last summer with a best time of 11.76 sec. In emerging victorious in 11.37 sec yesterday, the 25-year-old from Thornton Heath finished 0.13 sec outside the personal best she set in the European Cup last month. But the record Cook clocked as runner-up to Evelyn Ashford in the 1981 World Cup, 11.10, might not survive Maduaka's world championship debut next month.

Not that times are moving on for all British sprinters. Doug Walker, the star of last year's AAA championship show with his 200m win, has been standing still since his positive drugs test came to light. His case will be decided in London on Tuesday, the day the British team for Seville is announced. Eight months is a slow time in anyone's book, never mind a sprinter's.