Athletics Gateshead to feel Christie's absence

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The Independent Online
Athletics

MIKE ROWBOTTOM

Gateshead, where Linford Christie famously and lucratively defeated Carl Lewis two summers ago, will feel his absence tomorrow. The continuing dispute over payment between Christie's management and the British Athletic Federation has thrown up the possibility that the Olympic champion and his Nuff Respect colleagues, Colin Jackson and John Regis, will not be at any of the five main domestic meetings.

The phoney war is now over and the first of the meetings is upon us. The Bupa Games look like Hamlet without the prince. It is hardly a situation to delight ITV, whose advance trailers promised us a summer of athletics excellence, drawing heavily on the Nuff Respect group.

But the fates have not been entirely cruel to the meeting. With fortuitous timing, the figure of Jonathan Edwards has hopped, stepped and jumped into the limelight.

His two enormous jumps in Lille last weekend would have put the world record out of reach had it not been for wind gusting fractionally over the legal limit. Tomorrow, in his home town, this Gateshead Harrier will attempt to emulate that performance; never before has a triple-jump competition in Britain been so keenly awaited.

In his favour, Edwards will have competitive opposition in the form of Russia's European champion, Denis Kapustin, and Bermuda's world indoor champion, Brian Wellman, who has a best of 17.72 metres, equal to the British record Edwards set with the only jump in Lille that was accompanied by a legal windspeed.

Against him, Edwards will have the psychological pressure of returning to the almost mind-blowing heights of a week ago. And the weather.

The forecast for Gateshead tomorrow is not encouraging - temperatures down to 60F and blustery wind. In an effort to diminish the effect of the latter factor, Edwards has asked that the triple jump be removed from its normal place in front of the main stand to the far side of the stadium, where he believes the wind is less strong. As someone who trains in the stadium every week, he should know.

There is also a top quality 5,000 metres race in prospect, with British interest centring on John Nuttall, the European Cup silver medallist, and Rob Denmark, the Commonwealth champion, who faces his first major challenge of the season with a new-found confidence.

Four of his opponents have gone faster than his career-best 13min 10.24sec - they are headed by the Ethiopian Worku Bikila, who ran 12:57.23 in Rome three weeks ago, when Kenya's Moses Kiptanui lowered the world record to 12:55.30.

Denmark, 26, admitted: "I couldn't believe those times. They were frightening. I'm under no illusions how hard it's going to be. More than ever I will have to try to hang on to these people and put up with the pain. But mentally I'm so much stronger now. I believe I can handle the pressures a lot better."

Roger Black, who planned first to do the 400m and then the 200m, has sadly dropped out because of a knee injury. But the single-lap event still looks intriguing as it pits America's Darnell Hall, third in the world this year with 44.37sec, against the newly installed European Cup champion, Mark Richardson. Du'Aine Ladejo, Britain's European champion, and David Grindley, who returned to action last weekend after 22 months out with an Achilles tendon injury, are also due to run.

In the women's 1500m, Ireland's European 3,000m champion, Sonia O'Sullivan, meets two of Britain's Commonwealth champions - Kelly Holmes (1500m) and Yvonne Murray (10,000m) - in what could be one of the closest-run events of the day.

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