Athletics: Jubilant Jackson back to his best

European Championships: Another day to savour as Lewis and relay team match Welshman's success
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BRITAIN'S SPRINTING superiority at these European Championships was re- emphasised here yesterday as their 4x100 relay team finished five metres clear of the opposition to win gold in 38.52sec, and Colin Jackson claimed his third consecutive 110m hurdles title in a championship record of 13.02sec.

The 31-year-old Welshman who set the world record of 12.91sec in winning the 1993 world title, might have achieved his secondary aim here of dipping under 13 seconds for the first time in four years had he not hit the eighth hurdle. But by that point he had the race as good as won after an impressive start and a fluent pick-up. He finished a good metre clear of Falk Balzer of Germany, who took silver in 13.12, and the Dutchman Robin Korving, who recorded 13.20. Britain's Tony Jarrett was fifth in 13.32.

Jackson, who had recorded the same time in the semi-final, has served notice of his intention to challenge the Americans who have dominated the event over the last four years.

"It was important for me to get back to performing at my highest level," Jackson said. "I had to show I'm still around and alive and ready to compete at the World Championships next year. It's been a long time since people were looking at me like they have here.

"Before the start I looked at the others and they were getting tense and nervous. I just told myself to stay clear to stand back from all of that."

It was Jackson's first major title since the Commonwealth Games four years ago, since when he has seen his form dip to the point when he questioned his own commitment to the sport. A combination of injury and a bitter dispute with the British Athletic Federation meant that he did not defend his world title in 1995, and he was still hampered by injury to his knee when he placed fourth in the 1996 Olympics.

But a silver at last year's World Championships signalled a return to his old self, and this season, having had a successful operation on his troublesome knee and re-established himself with his former coach, Malcolm Arnold, he has looked a different athlete. "Colin can get his brain out of gear now and stop being scared of the Americans," Arnold said.

The importance of this competition to him was emphasised by his decision to take two weeks off for preparation, missing the lucrative Golden League meetings at Monaco and Zurich, and on the eve of competition he spoke of his ambition of going below 13 seconds once again.

That will now have to wait until he returns to the grand prix circuit to take on the likes of Allen Johnson, the man who succeeded him as world champion in 1995.

Having taken seven of the available nine individual medals at 100, 200 and 400 metres, the British team relied for the 4x100 final upon the quartet which had earned victory in the European Cup at St Petersburg two months ago.

Doug Walker and Julian Golding, gold and bronze medallists in the 200m, came into the team at the expense of Marlon Devonish and Dwain Chambers to finish off the early work done by Allyn Condon and individual gold medallist Darren Campbell.

The change-overs were as smooth as expected from this tested combination, and when Walker yelled at Golding to "go, go!" the 23-year-old had a five metres advantage which he maintained to the line, with France taking silver in 38.90 and Poland the bronze in 39.16.

It was some consolation for Golding, who anchored the team to the world bronze medal in Athens last summer, after his showing in the previous night's 200m final, where he was unable to rediscover the form he had shown in winning his heat and had to settle for bronze.

The 400 quartet, missing both individual medallists, progressed safely to today's final, winning their heat in 3min 02.37sec as Jamie Baulch, recovered now from the virus which undermined his performance in the trials, accepted a 12-metres lead from the third-placed runner, Solomon Wariso, and extended it to 20 by the finish.

The Poles, expected to present the main threat to Britain, won their semi-final in 3.03.59. "We are not underestimating them," Thomas said. "They are determined little buggers. We will probably have to run close to our record to beat them." Jonathan Edwards established himself in today's triple jump final with an effort of 16.97m, the third best of the qualifying distances, although he was cautious in his self assessment. "I didn't feel comfortable out there,' he said. "I had a few minor problems with my ankle in warm-up."