Athletics : Jason on fast curve

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The Independent Online
Unlikely though it may seem in this winter of controversy, the future of athletics in Britain still depends more on who can run well than who can run the sport well. On that count the future on the track is no clearer than it is in the cloudy world of administration. Yesterday's English AAA indoor championships in Birmingham could offer only the tenuous hope that Britain can find a replacement for Linford Christie and that Colin Jackson might somehow have a good world championship year, perhaps his last at top level since next month he will be celebrating his 30th birthday. Still, he won yesterday's 60 metres hurdles in 7.54 sec, his best time of the year so far.

Among the few spectators yesterday was Roger Black, Britain's most successful athlete in Atlanta, but now on crutches following a knee ligament operation similar to the one that he had the year before last without damaging effect. He anticipates another quick recovery.

In the familiar family-and-friends atmosphere of the championships, it was tempting to believe that all the talk of a crisis in athletics was so much malicious gossip. But the sort of people who make up the bulk of this weekend's competitors and spectators are the very ones who over the past few years have felt more and more disenchanted with a sport that seems incapable of bridging the divide between the elite and the modest enthusiast. The successful formation of the British Athletes' Association has both emphasised that gap and at the same time offered an opportunity for the sport at top level to look after its own affairs more professionally. Its director, Geoff Parsons, says he has been staggered by the hundreds of applications he has received from prospective members.

Until the full potential of the new association is realised and the sport moves on to show some unity, the chances of persuading an effective new executive to take over from Peter Radford at the British Athletic Federation are remote. So many people closely involved, notably Brendan Foster, Dave Moorcroft and Mike Whittingham, have emphasised the fact that perhaps only David Shaw has made a real go of the job, other prospective "supremos" must have been put off. The BAF have in effect accepted that situation by saying they are going to spend some time defining the parameters of the vacant Chief Executive job.

Yesterday Colin Jackson had committed himself to both the 60-metres hurdles and the 60m. He is looking trim after his two years of struggle against injuries. Whether he can re-establish himself in the high hurdles is another matter but at least he no longer has to believe that among his toughest opponents, psychologically, is Peter Radford.

Among Jackson's opponents in the 60m yesterday was Du'aine Ladejo, who plans a future in the decathlon. Ladejo found himself thrust into some comparatively earnest competition as early as the sprint semi-finals. He managed a personal best of 6.69sec to go into the final in spite of being up against Jason Livingston, Jason Gardener and Julian Golding, which convinced him that several weeks of concentrating on improving his pole-vaulting for his new event in South Africa had left him with improved short-sprint speed. He aims to compete in his first decathlon in California either in April or May.

The 60m flat was a shade too competitive for Jackson and Ladejo (fifth in another personal best of 6.68 sec) but served the purpose of adding sharpness to both and showing that they are prepared to support British athletics on home ground even at this time of the year when most leading athletes are flying south.

The event was a triumph for Livingston who may be a long way from taking the mantle from Christie, who ran 6.65sec in Norway yesterday, but held off a tough field to win his first national title in 6.58sec, the second fastest time indoors in Europe this season and too quick for Gardener and the 1995 world indoor silver medalist Darren Braithwaite. Livingston is still coming out of the shadow of his four-year drugs ban and though he was formerly the European 60m champion, his discretion rather than his triumphs has still to be overlooked by athletics crowds. There were a few boos injected into the applause when he took his medal.

Livingston plans to run in Madrid on 5 February, by which time he will begin to feel the pressure of being among the sprinters called "pretenders" to the crown of Christie. For the moment, though, Darren Campbell and Ian Mackie remain the most likely successors.