Athletics: Richardson's Friday date

Britain's top 400 metres runner will test his suspect knee with an outing in Stockholm. By Mike Rowbottom

MARK RICHARDSON, Britain's No 1 runner over 400 metres this season, is aiming to prove his fitness for next month's World Championships by running in Stockholm on Friday night.

Richardson, who pulled out of Sunday's final at the CGU World Trials and AAA Championships as a precaution after feeling a niggling pain behind his right knee, is returning to training this week with a view to testing himself at the DN Galan meeting against a strong field which will include the world and Olympic champion, Michael Johnson.

"I've only won the AAA's once before and I would really have liked to do it again, but it just wasn't worth taking the risk," Richardson said. "I am sure I will be OK for Stockholm but I am just going to take things cautiously this week."

In his absence, the 400 metres title went to Jamie Baulch, who missed out on an individual place at the European Championships by one position. The Welshman, who took the world indoor title earlier this year, earned a comfortable victory in 45.36sec on a day which went spectacularly well for the management group to whom he is attached, Nuff Respect. Other winners from the group included Julian Golding, whose 200m win in 20.20sec, a championship best, was all the more impressive for the fact that he eased off over the final five metres to acknowledge his victory. Golding is clearly back in the kind of form which brought him a Commonwealth title at the end of last season.

Two of Baulch's companions under the coaching direction of Linford Christie also distinguished themselves - Paul Gray, who produced his best performance of the season to take the second qualifying place in the 400m hurdles in 49.94sec, and Katharine Merry, whose winning 400m time of 50.62sec - third-fastest ever by a Briton - made it clear that she had finally found her best event after 10 years of searching.

Kelly Holmes won with expected ease in the 800m, a victory which earned her a peck on both cheeks from the Minister for Sport, Tony Banks, as he presented her with her medal. It is still a tall order for the 29-year- old Ealing athlete to take a medal at the World Championships, which begin in Seville on 20 August, but she is clearly moving in the right direction and no one could have more dedication to the cause of preparation.

There were two other notable comebacks in the middle distances. Rob Denmark, who has been plagued with illness and injury in the last couple of years and collapsed in last month's 10,000m trial with what he subsequently discovered was a fractured rib, won the 5,000m in a time of 13min 34.17sec.

Denmark still has to achieve the World Championship qualifying mark of 13:29.00, which may not prove possible, but after his problems this victory meant more to him, he said, than even his Commonwealth gold of 1994.

Curtis Robb, whose last serious action was in the 1996 Olympic Games, where he reached the 800m semi-final, could also look back on his weekend's effort with satisfaction after booking a place for Seville by finishing third in the 800m final. Robb, who has deferred his medical studies in order to revive his running career before the World Championships and next year's Olympic Games, understandably looked tired at the end of his third race in as many days. He has already broken the World Championship qualifying standard of 1:46.30 while the two men who finished ahead of him, Mark Sesay and Jason Lobo, have yet to do so.

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