Athletics: Morgan in pursuit of Lynn the Leap

European Cup: Individual talent can help Britain's defence of trophy but injuries undermine visit to St Petersburg; British long jumping has stood still since the 1960s but now has a young contender aiming for an old mark.
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The Independent Online
FOUR YEARS ago, British triple jumping was not an outstandingly interesting area of the sport. How swiftly things can change. We now find ourselves with the men's world record holder, in Jonathan Edwards, and the women's indoor world record holder, in Ashia Hansen.

Why certain events ignite for Britain at certain times remains a mystery, although the catalyst is always an outstanding performer. Which brings us to the long jump, which also brings us to Nathan Morgan.

This morning, this 19-year- old from Leicester faces the biggest challenge of his fledgling athletic career as Britain's representative in the European Cup in St Petersburg. He goes into the competition with the words of Britain's athletics performance director, Max Jones, ringing in his ears.

"Nathan will produce the goods this year," said Jones at last week's team selection announcement. "This could be the guy who is going to take British jumping into world class. I think he will be the one to break Lynn Davis's British record."

Pressure? What pressure?

Sensibly, Morgan steps back from making any wild predictions about when - or even if - he will surpass the mark of 8.23 metres which has eluded every other British jumper since it was set in 1968. Yes, 1968, year of the Mexico Olympics, which goes to show what an outstanding athlete the 1964 Olympic champion was.

"People ask me when I'm going to break his record," Morgan said with a hint of a chuckle. "When it happens, it happens. I know I've got a lot more to come."

As he well knows, many have travelled the hopeful road before him. Seven years ago, the preciously talented Stewart Faulkner appeared to have positioned himself within reach of the domestic summit with a leap of 8.15 metres, still the furthest any British athlete other than Davies has achieved. But Faulkner, ultimately, proved too fragile a talent. A year later, a more rumbustuous character, the Irishman Mark Forsythe, managed 8.14. He, too, found Lynn the Leap beyond his reach, however.

Morgan is the obvious new talent in the event, a fact that he formally announced when he became European junior champion. His winning distance in Ljubljana - 7.90m - stands as his best, although he procured a wind- assisted effort of 8.04m at the same venue earlier this season. Realistically, 8.23 is far off. But he is approaching tomorrow's challenge with clear goals in mind. "This will be the biggest competition I've ever done," he said. "I'm going to be going for big jumps. I'm expecting to be over eight metres."

After two years of domestic domination Morgan welcomed the opportunity to extend himself going into St Petersburg. A month ago, there was talk of Colin Jackson claiming the long jump spot in addition to the hurdles, but injury and cancelled events means the Welshman has been unable to jump this season.

Morgan, however, was unconcerned about that possibility. "I didn't think the selectors would pick Colin for the long jump," he said. "Even if he had got a jump in. Because I am better than him."

Money from the National Lottery - and additional assistance from the ubiquitous benefactor, Sir Eddie Kulukundis - has enabled this Birchfield Harrier to train full time for the past two years. The 30 hours a week jobs in local grocery stores are a thing of the past.

Earlier this year he went warm weather training in Tallahassee along with his coach, Darryl Bunn, who also coaches Britain's world heptathalon silver medallist, Denise Lewis.

It is a set-up which is working well for the boy who used to get under the feet of the senior athletes at Leicester's Saffron Lane track after being taken down to the club by his father as a promising eight-year-old.

Natural speed - the essential pre-requisite for any jumper nowadays - has been harnessed to the event which he took to best in inter-school and county completions.

His ambitions extend beyond St Petersburg, naturally enough, to this season's European Championships and Commonwealth Games. The latter competition, he believes, looks set up for Jamaica's James Beckford. "He is a class above anyone else," Morgan said. "But I have seen the best people in Europe. And they haven't got anything that I haven't got."

That's the spirit. Watch this space.