Athletics: Showpiece showdown for Black: Mike Rowbottom anticipates some high-class athletics at tonight's Crystal Palace grand prix

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THE small gathering of curious onlookers who witnessed Daley Thompson's ill-fated final throw of the dice yesterday will be replaced tonight by an expectant throng for a grand prix meeting which promises to deliver the goods.

Andy Norman, the meeting promoter, claims that London has an event which has now joined Oslo, Zurich and Brussels in the world's top rank. There is certainly a comparable gathering of the creme de la creme - and one or two genuinely competitive events.

The 800 metres, which was already matching Tom McKean and Steve Heard against Mark Everett, who was second in the US Olympic trials, became even more intriguing yesterday when Curtis Robb, the third of Britain's representatives at the event in Barcelona, was confirmed as a late entry.

Robb, who said after winning the British Olympic trial 800m that he intended to do no more serious racing before the Games themselves, changed his mind after making a quicker recovery from his exertions than he expected.

A comparatively weak 1500m, which looked like being a domestic contest between John Mayock, Steve Crabb, Neil Horsfield, Tony Morrell and Simon Fairbrother, will be enlivened by the arrival of the Kenyan David Kibet, who won the Dream Mile in Oslo last Saturday.

But the race has come too soon for Matthew Yates, who gave some evidence that he has recovered from the viral infection which kept him out of the Olympic trials by winning a low-key 1500m at Watford on Wednesday night. His time - 3min 49.1sec - was slow, but his last lap of 55sec was fast.

The showpiece looks like being the 400m, where Roger Black, beaten by Quincy Watts of the United States in his last two races, takes on another of the US Olympic qualifiers, Steve Lewis, who won the gold in Seoul, and Michael Johnson, the world 200m champion who has run 44.23sec this year.

The experience could be just as useful for Derek Redmond, back after a horrendous series of injuries, who ran just over 45sec to finish as the leading Briton in the Olympic trials. This sort of company may nudge him closer to the British record of 44.50sec which he set five years ago.

The 200m has been diminished by yesterday's withdrawal of Linford Christie, who finished fourth behind Michael Johnson, Olapade Adeniken and John Regis at Lausanne on Wednesday. Christie will run only the 100m. Regis, meanwhile, will have his work cut out against Danny Everett of the United States and Robson Da Silva of Brazil.

The 110m hurdles entry is so strong it has had to be split into heats. The first includes the world champion, Greg Foster, the world's fastest this year, Tony Dees, and Colin Jackson; the second features Arthur Black and the world silver medallist, Jack Pierce, as well as Tony Jarrett, whose 13.04sec in Lille on Monday, albeit wind-assisted, was the fastest this season by a European.

Mary Slaney yesterday withdrew from the 2,000m, pleading a viral infection, which means that the re-run of her 1985 race at the Palace with Zola Budd, now Pieterse, is off. Pieterse could nevertheless be in for a testing evening as local anti-apartheid groups apparently plan to demonstrate against her inclusion.