Athletics: Jackson at the height of his powers

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The Independent Online
SHORTLY after Colin Jackson had beaten the world's best high hurdlers for the second time within a week, at Saturday's TSB international in Birmingham, someone asked who he saw coming up to challenge him. He paused blankly for a moment, before responding: 'There's no one out there.'

Like Noureddine Morceli, who failed by less than a second to set a world indoor mile record at the same meeting, Jackson appears ideally placed to win a world championship gold medal in Stuttgart this summer. For both men, the achievement would do something to assuage deep disappointment from the Olympics, where they finished out of the medals in events they were expected to dominate.

Both responded swiftly after Barcelona. Morceli was prompted by the Algerian public's dismay at their world champion's failure to win an Olympic medal of any kind, a reaction that seemed to take little heed of the fact that a sciatic nerve problem had given him only three clear weeks to prepare before Barcelona. 'There was a lot of pressure on my back,' he said. 'I read in one of the papers: 'Now Morceli must break the world record.' So he did, beating Said Aouita's seven-year-old mark of 3min 29.46 in Rieti within two months.

For Jackson, who finished seventh in the Barcelona final as his Canadian training partner and house-mate, Mark McKoy, won the gold medal, there were two ways to go. 'I could have gone quite flat and just gone through the motions for the rest of the season,' he said. 'But I was really forced to recover quickly because I had to go out and prove a point every time I stepped out on to the track.'

He is still doing that. Saturday's time of 7.44sec was the fastest in the world this year - reports that he had won his race in Germany six days earlier in 7.42 proved to be an exaggeration by 0.09sec. He maintained afterwards that he could take a tenth of a second off Saturday's time, which would be 0.02sec inside Greg Foster's world record of 7.36.

The ideal time for that kind of improvement would be in Toronto next month, where Jackson will compete in the world indoor championships against a field which he hopes will include McKoy. Jackson's performance on Saturday was all the more commendable in that he is still not hurdling fluently following a hamstring problem which was exacerbated by last week's flight back from Australia, where he was training with Linford Christie. Britain's 100 metres champion looks increasingly likely to compete in Toronto, too.

Morceli's disappointment with Saturday's narrow failure - he blamed the pacemaker, Ikem Billy, for failing to take him through to 1,000 metres as he had hoped - was moderated by his time of 3min 50.70sec, the third fastest ever indoors and 0.92sec outside the 10- year-old record set by Ireland's Eamonn Coghlan. Fully fit, Morceli appears to be in a class of his own, and Matthew Yates did well to finish five seconds adrift in second place in a time of 3.55.78.

John Ngugi, the five-times world cross-country champion, faces a possible four-year ban for refusing a drug test. John Weton, head of an IAAF team of doctors visiting Kenya for an out-of-competition random test, said Ngugi refused to give a urine sample when the doctors went to his home in Nyahururu, western Kenya, last week.