But last night at the Palais Omnisports the best high hurdler in the world reduced the flat-race specialists to so many dead parrots. Jackson won in 6.49sec, a personal best by 0.06sec and only one hundredth of a second off the European record set last month by Linford Christie. He had the good grace to look surprised.
Michael Rosswess also got a personal best, 6.54sec, to win his third bronze medal in this event behind Alexandros Terzian, of Greece.
'We had expected a time of 6.52 or 6.53,' Malcolm Arnold, Jackson's coach, said. 'But I am never surprised at what he achieves. I can call him a sprinter now.'
Jackson's reaction after becoming the fifth fastest man over the distance was virtually one of shock. 'That is my last 60 metres,' he said. 'I never felt in control of what I was doing. It was a surprise to know that I could run that quickly. I only wanted to run as fast as I needed to to win.'
The night before the race, Jackson had spoken on the phone to Christie. 'He told me, 'Get out fast, and they will never get back to you.' Jackson followed the advice to demoralise a field which included Alexander Porkhomovsky, of Russia, last year's European Cup silver medallist at 100m, and Daniel Sangouma, of France.
Jackson will not, however, be tempted to double up outdoors by adding the 100 metres to the 110m hurdles at which he is world record- holder and champion. 'There is no way I could beat Linford outdoors,' he said.
He may be more tired now than he had envisaged. But as he turns today to the 60 metres hurdles event in which he reduced the world record by 0.06sec to 7.30sec last Sunday, there appears no way he can fail to achieve an unprecedented double.
Rosswess was gracious in defeat. 'I thought a time of 6.54 would probably win it,' he said. 'I didn't think Colin could run as fast as that. He would have given Linford a run for his money today. I've won three bronzes and this is the fastest time ever by me. At the end of the day, I can't be disappointed by a personal best. But I wish I had a gold.'
Alison Wyeth's attempt to send a defiant gesture to the selectors who overlooked her for the World Cross- Country Championships later this month ended as more of a whimper than a bang.
After trying without success to hang on to the runaway winner of the 3,000 metres, Fernanda Ribeiro, of Portugal, Wyeth slipped back to sixth place in a time of 9min 04.35sec. Wyeth, who finished fifth in last year's World Championships in Stuttgart, had held second place until the final 400 metres, when a line of runners led by Romania's world indoor champion, Margareta Kesveg, swept past her.
Wyeth's coach, Bob Parker, tried to console her afterwards. 'You ran well,' he said. 'I ran rubbish,' she replied.
Having only two weeks to concentrate on running indoors rather than across country proved insufficient. 'I am really disappointed,' she said. 'I thought that I would get a medal.' But she still intends to prove a point at the national cross- country championships in Blackburn tomorrow.
Earlier, Britain's trio of 400m runners - James Baulch, Mark Richardson and Du'Aine Ladejo - safely reached tonight's semi-finals. Martin Steele also reached the 800m semi-final with ease.
In what was the most predictable result of the day, Heike Drechsler, Germany's world and Olympic long jump champion, added a further title to her career record with a leap of 7.06m.
In what was the most unpredictable result of the day, Gheorghe Guset, of Romania, sent his shot put wide of the arc, over the head of the judge in her chair, past the television sound recordist, down the 60m track and into the long jump pit, where it described a short arc before coming to rest just short of the six metres mark. It was a stadium record.