Athletics: Gardener joins the sprinting elite

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THEN THERE were two. Jason Gardener became the second young Briton to follow Linford Christie into sub-10 seconds territory for the 100m here last night when he recorded a time of 9.98sec in finishing third behind the world record holder Maurice Greene and the surprise winner, Ato Boldon.

The hope that Greene could repeat or better his outstanding performance in Athens last month, when he lowered the world mark to 9.79, proved unfounded despite excellent sprinting conditions and a proven sprinter's track.

Boldon won in 9.86sec thanks to a spurt over the last 30 metres which took him past his friend and training partner, who recorded 9.93.

But Gardener, who had lowered his personal-best 10.02 in winning his heat, hung in with the world's two fastest men to become the second-fastest European of all-time behind Christie, shaving 0.01sec off the time recorded by his 21-year-old British rival Dwain Chambers last month.

It was an astonishing leap forward for a runner who began the season with a best of 10.25sec and gave substance to his view that Britain will have three men who have run under 10 seconds come the World Championships.

The third man, as it were, is Darren Campbell, who won the European title last summer in 10.04sec but has struggled this season. Campbell, however, continues to improve steadily and finished seventh here in a time of 10.15.

Gardener's coach, Dave Lease, said last week that his charge had reacted with frustration upon hearing that Chambers had beaten him to a sub-10 time. "Jason knows it's only a question of when, not if, he does the same thing."

Last night the moment finally arrived for Gardener, who missed the best part of 1995 and 1996 with injuries. "It's just great to be able to come to places like this and run without injuries.

"I was knackered, absolutely smashed after the heat and I had less than an hour to recover but I managed it and it feels good. The middle part of the race wasn't as good as I'd liked."

Clearly Gardener feels he can improve still further. But last night was a happy contrast to his experience when Greene broke the world record. Despite being the second-fastest man in the early rounds, with a time of 10.08, Gardener was not allowed into the final, whose contestants had been decided beforehand. On that historic occasion he was a frustrated spectator in the stands. Last night, however, he was allowed to join the party and found himself standing alongside Greene on the podium, just as he had three months earlier after taking bronze at the world indoor 60 metres event behind the American. "I'm getting used to it," he said with a grin. "But next time I would like to get a little higher up the steps."

Jonathan Edwards avoided what would have been his third successive defeat of the season as he won the triple jump with 17.34 metres, a distance only he and a man he beat into second place last night, Denis Kapustin, has bettered this season.

"It was a nice feeling to win again," said Edwards, who finished behind Kapustin in his last two events at Gateshead and the European Cup in Paris.

But Edwards was troubled by a foot problem which caused him to pass on his final three attempts. "I think I have bruised the bone in the arch of my left foot after wearing some new orthotics in my shoe," he said. He will travel today to Prague to have a precautionary scan, after which he will decide whether it is worth competing as scheduled in Salamanca in two weeks time.

"The foot was very sore," he said. "There is no point in going to meetings 95 per cent fit and dropping down to 50 per cent afterwards. But if I had been 100 per cent today I felt I could have jumped a lot further than I have this season."

Michael Johnson, the world and Olympic 400m champion, began his European season with a customary victory at 400m, stopping the clock at 43.92sec to confirm his fitness after pulling out of last weekend's US Championships with a quadriceps muscle problem. Britain's Mark Richardson finished third in a time of 44.53.

The meeting had a tonic effect on two Britons whose form since winning world indoor titles in March has been distinctly sickly. Ashia Hansen, still catching up after having an operation to remove chips of bone from her foot in April, claimed her first victory since she took the triple jump gold medal in Maebashi, Japan.

The world indoor record holder produced an effort of 14.65 metres with her fifth attempt, which put her third on in the 1999 world rankings. More importantly, it put a spring back into Hansen's step as she heads for the World Championships.

Jamie Baulch, 400m winner in Maebashi, won the B race here in a time of 44.82sec, which was the fastest by a European in 1999. It was a far cry from his showing last Sunday when he clocked a disappointing 45.66sec for fourth place in Gateshead.

Colin Jackson stumbled to fourth place in 110m hurdles in a race won by America's Larry Wade. Wade's time of 13.01sec was the fastest of the year, but it was something of a bitter-sweet achievement for him given that he will miss the World Championships after tripping out of contention at the US trials.

Results, Digest, page 31