Athletics: Hansen has that golden feeling

Britain's leading woman triple jumper is ready to leap on to the world stage in Athens, Mike Rowbottom reports
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To watch Ashia Hansen break her British and Commonwealth triple jump record, twice, at Sheffield earlier this month was to witness joy itself.

"Now I know I can win the world title," she said in the euphoric aftermath. The recollection prompts her coach, Aston Moore, to chuckle. "All athletes tend to be over the top in anything they say or do when they have produced a performance like that," he said. "Athletes say things like `I'm going to win the gold' and they don't think about what is going to happen between then and the championships they are talking about."

In Hansen's case, a back injury she picked up in her last competition in Nice has hampered her sprinting in the lead-up to the World Championships which get underway this Saturday.

Like Britain's other world class triple jumper, Jonathan Edwards, Hansen is approaching Athens with a measure of doubt in her mind.

"Ashia has got an injury which we obviously wish she didn't have, but it has responded well to treatment," said her coach, Aston Moore. "We tested it on Tuesday, and although it did ache afterwards it is not an injury that will stop her competing. She is a tough athlete, and she will go out there and jump well beyond 14.70 or 14.80 metres. It is going to be for the others to see if they can jump further. We are still hopeful of gold."

On balance, Moore was glad Hansen made her prediction. "It's a good thing, really, because it shows she has the confidence," he said. "We had talked about it in training, but it was something we had kept to ourselves up to that point."

Despite her setback, Hansen herself still feels imbued with the feeling she expressed in Sheffield. "It hasn't worn off," she said.

After arriving on the international scene in 1994, quickly establishing herself as Britain's No 1, Hansen, now 25, underperformed at a series of international championships.

Her previous coach, Frank Attoh, put it down to her being scared of the other top jumpers. "She was giving in before she even went out and jumped," he said. Attoh, and, for the last year, Moore, have worked as hard on the mental side of her training as the physical.

But no amount of positive feedback in training can match the confidence- inducing power of good performances.

In that respect, winning the world indoor silver medal four months ago in Paris confirmed something important for Hansen.

"After finishing fourth in the Olympics the previous summer, it proved to me that I could repeat good performances. It showed what happened in Atlanta was not just a one-off."

The difference in tone from Hansen's more diffident utterances two years ago is significant.

"Sometimes athletes are good enough, but they don't feel they belong," said Moore, a former holder of the British triple jump record. "Sometimes that is the problem. Ashia now feels she belongs with that company of girls at the top."

Hansen's mental load in the last year has been also lightened with the knowledge that she does not need to bust a gut simply to qualify for the final at major championships. Her standard jump - even her substandard jump - is now sufficient to see her through.

"It means she can approach competition in a more relaxed way and concentrate on the main job in hand," Moore said.

Hansen's performance at Sheffield - where she raised the British and Commonwealth record to 14.94 - suggested that she will soon surpass the 15-metres barrier.

"That's what we are hoping," Moore said. "To be perfectly honest that's what you have got to plan for these days if you are going to win gold medals. You almost have to be prepared to jump that and anything beyond it."

With Inna Lasovskaya, the Russian second in this year's world rankings, absent from Athens because of a ruptured Achilles tendon, Hansen and Moore identify three main rivals.

The known danger, as they term her, is the Czech jumper Sarka Kasparkova. The Olympic bronze medallist has been jumping regularly around the 14.70 mark. "If you read anything into that it could be that she is in a niche she can't get out of or she is maintaining her level of fitness to prepare specifically for the big one. She jumped 14.98 at the Olympics so she must be capable of 15 metres."

Dark horse is the Romanian, Rodica Mateescu, who has competed only twice this season, beating Hansen by one centimetre to win the event in the European Cup, and jumping 15.14, which leads this year's world standings.

Then there is the defending champion and world record holder at 15.50, Inessa Kravets, who came back after injury to jump 14 metres at the Nice grand prix this month. "She's still a danger," said Moore.

Finally, as in every event at these championships, there is the question of what the Greeks will produce on their home ground. Other than appearances at the World Indoor Championships, there has been no sign of the leading home athletes on the grand prix circuit. Ominous? Perhaps.

"You just hope you have sufficient in hand to combat any possible surprises that may come from them," Moore added.

In the meantime Hansen - who faces an early morning call in Athens before Saturday's qualifying round at 8.20am - is contemplating a further competitive challenge.

In recent weeks, she and that other noted triple jumper, Jonathan Edwards, have had a light-hearted arrangement at meetings whereby Edwards has to jump three metres further than anything Hansen manages. Assuming the defending world champion makes it through safely to the men's final on Friday week, it would be nice to think of him facing the task of jumping 18 metres.