Athletics: Gunnell sets gold standard: Britons eye further gains

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THE unplanned meeting between David Grindley and Sally Gunnell at Wednesday night's Lausanne Grand Prix took place in the eighth lane. Bearing their mandatory victory bouquets, they embraced in mutual congratulation after performances which have raised expectations for both as they prepare for next month's world championships.

For Gunnell, the expectation has to be one of gold. The manner in which she dominated a 400 metres hurdles field that included most of her potential rivals in Stuttgart was authoritative. There was some tension before the race between herself and Sandra Farmer-Patrick, something Gunnell put down to the efforts of American TV. Whether that atmosphere contributed to the fast start which the American made is an open question; whatever the case, she overreached and Gunnell, apportioning her effort economically, won in 53.86sec, a time only she has bettered this year.

'I never expected to be running this fast at this stage of the season,' Gunnell said yesterday. 'I think I felt guilty about missing training after winning the Olympics, so when I did train I was working that much harder.'

The only obvious contenders for the world title absent in Switzerland were three Russians - Vera Ordina, whom Gunnell has already beaten this season, Margarita Ponomaryova and Tatyana Ledovskaya. She goes into next week's AAA Championships, where she runs in the 100m hurdles, in high spirits.

Grindley also has reason to be on a high after a startling display of jubilation during a 400m victory over a field which included the Olympic bronze medallist, Samson Kitur, and two Americans who have run faster than him - Andrew Valmon and the world champion, Antonio Pettigrew. Despite slowing down in the final 30 metres to conduct his own private celebration, he won in 44.53sec.

Had he been less exuberant, he would have bettered his British record of 44.47 and perhaps even beaten the European record of 44.33. But the 20-year-old from Wigan is in a position to make such speculation academic as he prepares for tomorrow night's grand prix in Oslo, where he faces the top US runners, Butch Reynolds and Michael Johnson.

Johnson won the US 400m trials, setting the world's fastest time this year, 43.74sec. But at 200m, his world championship distance, he has been vulnerable. A lack of concentration near the line led to defeat in last Friday's grand prix in Lille, but on Wednesday night he was unable to withstand the challenge of Carl Lewis, who demonstrated that, at 32, he is still a force in US sprinting.

Lewis earned a record dollars 100,000 ( pounds 66,000) in Lausanne for helping to promote the meeting and running the 100 and 200 metres. The crowd of around 17,500 in the Stade Pontaise clearly felt he was worth every cent. After running the 100m in 10.08sec to finish second behind Andre Cason, he won the longer sprint in 19.99sec.

His performance will send shivers through the ranks of the world's 200m runners. 'It's still early in the season, and it's going to be a great season,' he said. 'I am focussing on the 200 metres this year, and this was only my fourth race at the distance. I was happy with the time, but not with my start. I must commit myself more in the race.' That will be worth watching.

Steve Cram's attempt to gain a 5,000m world championship qualifying time in Gavle, Sweden ended in failure on Wednesday night as he dropped out with a calf injury a lap from the end. Cram, who had planned to take part in tomorrow night's Dream Mile in Oslo, faces a struggle to recover in time for the world championship trials at the AAA championships which start next Friday.