Athletics: Pride of the perfectionist

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The Independent Online
THE withdrawal of Colin Jackson from the World Cup at Crystal Palace deprived the British team of their most certain winner. Whether or not he recovers from his stomach upset in time to compete in Tokyo this week, his unbeaten record this season is one of the most conspicuous achievements in the history of athletics.

The Welshman with the mysterious, Siamese cat-like eyes and smooth, almost feline running style admits that he began the year 'thinking about a perfect run, in which everything went right, and another world record'. But thoughts of an unblemished record took over. His season's total stands at 22 wins in the 110 metres hurdles event, and 35 since last August.

Jackson has got better as this demanding summer has worn on. Last Tuesday in Madrid he achieved his fastest time of the season, 12.99sec, compared with his own world best of 12.91sec set last year at the world championships in Stuttgart where he complained about the imperfections in his run. Typically, he was again dissatisfied. 'I keep seeing faults; there's always somewhere in a race where I could do better but the unbeaten record has given me some extra motivation.'

To most spectators, his run in Madrid was a work of art, perfectly begun, consolidated in the middle and comfortably superior at the end. It could only be faulted by a specialist in nit- picking of which he is the sport's grand master. His perfectionism could get on your nerves; it certainly bugs his former training partner Mark McKoy who remains a close friend of a rare athlete whose aloofness has become a significant part of his armoury.

Jackson and Linford Christie are Britain's highest athletics money-earners and have pooled their fame and financial resources to start a management company called Nuff Respect. At a recent grand prix meeting Jackson glanced at a red Ferrari that was on offer to anyone who broke a world record and said that if he won it he would give it to his coach, Malcolm Arnold, 'because I don't like red'.

Success this season has brought him gold bars worth some pounds 80,000 and enough appearance money to maintain a pop star's way of life. He can afford a substantial house near Cardiff, where he lives most of the time with his parents, a flat in Richmond, Surrey, a place in Florida and another in Toronto where he intends to settle down, possibly after winning his final event, the Olympic gold in Atlanta in 1996. When not abroad, he trains mainly in Cardiff with a friend, Paul Gray, and he has a permanent masseur. He has no special interests outside athletics but enjoys cooking, which is curious since he thrives on simple pastas and junk food. The nearest he gets to alcohol is wine gums.

In spite of his wealth and fame, he has a disconcerting shyness that perhaps accounts for the view that he is not one of athletics' more sociable characters. He has doubts about earning a living from running and has a high regard for people who do 'worthwhile' things like nursing, his mother's profession.

So where will this search for perfection lead? He had thought that an improvement on his world record was possible in Zurich last month but conditions were unsuitable. He accepts that he has passed his peak for this year, but his plans for next summer are ambitious. 'I really aim my season at the big championship meetings so next year's world championships in Gothenburg are the next big target.'

There, he expects to smooth out those almost imperceptible rough edges. He has reached the point at which he has only himself to beat. His nearest rival, Tony Jarrett, keeps looking for any weaknesses in Jackson. To no avail. 'He sets the standard and pulls me to times I wouldn't achieve without trying to catch him. At least for now.'

(Photograph omitted)