Athletics: Hansen leaps into the golden world

Britain's star triple jumper rewrites record books to light up the European Indoor Championships
THE MIDAS touch returned to British athletics with a record-breaking vengeance on the second day of the European Indoor Championships here last night. Ashia Hansen, the triple jumper born in Indiana but raised in London, hopped, stepped and jumped to the gold medal that had eluded the best of Britain for two frustrating years. In doing so, she writ her name large in the world record book. Her fourth-round effort, a prodigious 15.16m, not only snatched the title from Sarka Kasparkova of the Czech Republic but eclipsed Yolanda Chen's world indoor record by 13 centimetres.

It was stunning confirmation of the 26-year-old's arrival at the global summit of track and field - and the first victory by a British athlete in a senior international championship since Du'aine Ladejo's 400m success in the 1996 European Indoor Championships in Stockholm. Hansen refused to buckle when her third-round leading jump of 14.69m was surpassed by Kasparkova's 14.76m in the next. She simply gathered her thoughts, urged the crowd to clap her down the runway and sped off with renewed resolve. Conjuring visions of Jonathan Edwards at his ground-breaking best, she ventured so far with her hop and her step she came perilously close to the sand-pit before launching into her final phase.

When the scoreboard flashed the distance, the sizeable British contingent spread among the Valencian crowd waved their Union flags in celebration. Hansen just buried her head in disbelief. "I was laughing and crying," she said later, clutching her gold medal. "I can still hardly believe it. The step phase just seemed to go on and on forever. I got out of the pit and saw I'd gone over 15m but I didn't think it would be a world record.

"I knew Kasparkova had jumped 15.20m outdoors last year and I expected a bigger jump from her. When I lost the lead to her I just got wound up. I thought, 'Hey, I should be ahead'. If she had produced something more in the last two rounds I think I would have been ready to respond again."

But the Czech, winner of the world title in Athens last summer, could not make an improvement. Hansen made one half-hearted attempt in the fifth round, stepping over the take-off board and then passed in the final round, secure in the knowledge that the gold was secure.

It was a golden performance forged in Britain, Hansen's home since the age of six. She was born in Evansville, Indiana, and spent her early years in Ghana, but has lived most of her life in London, and more latterly in Birmingham. She only turned to triple jumping after failing to make a mark of any great significance elsewhere in the track and field spectrum. She started her athletics life as a middle-distance runner and then tried her luck as a high jumper and long jumper before joining the pioneering ranks of the women's triple jump four years ago.

She did so with a discerning eye cast in the direction of Edwards and the other leading lights of the men's world rather than towards her female rivals. "Right from the start I tried to jump like the men," Hansen said. "Women tend to swing their lead legs out for the step phase whereas men bound. That's what I try to do."

She has done it to increasingly good effect too. Twice before in these championships the Shaftesbury Barnet Harrier has wilted under the pressure on the big occasion, failing to qualify in 1994 and failing to register a valid jump in the final two years ago. But her pedigree was evident in the World Indoor Championships in Paris last year, when she took the silver medal behind Inna Lasovskaya of Russia, and she has recovered from the disappointment of a fifth place in the outdoor World Championships in Athens last summer under the expert guidance of her coach Aston Moore, the Birchfield Harrier who was twice a Commonwealth bronze medallist in his own triple jumping career.

Moore played a crucial role yesterday, gesturing from his track-side seat in the Luis Puig Palacio de los Deportes after Hansen's third-round jump. "He was signalling that I was over- rotating before the jump phase," she said. "He was telling me to keep my chin up."

It was a piece of traditional British advice that paid off in dynamic fashion when Hansen leapt into the record books with her next effort. It also produced a piece of British athletics history. The last British woman to break a world record in a jump event was Mary Rand, with an indoor long jump, in 1965.

The task now falls to Jonathan Edwards to follow such a momentous feat when he takes to the runway in the men's triple jump this afternoon. There could well be another world record and more Spanish gold for Britain.