Athletics: Smith can lead by example

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The Independent Online
STEVE SMITH, out in the cold on Sunday as he missed the Bupa indoor meeting in Birmingham, was ushered back into pride of place yesterday when he was appointed captain of Britain's team for next month's World Indoor Championships in Japan.

Unlike last August, when he was the non-playing captain of Britain's European Championship team in Budapest due to injury, Smith will play an active part, having returned to high jumping competition for the first time in seven months.

The Olympic bronze medallist, who feared he might never jump again when he badly injured his neck last July, demonstrated his return to fitness with two impressive performances in Germany over the weekend.

On Friday in Arnstadt he jumped 2.24 metres, and while several of his British colleagues were pressing their world indoor claim in Birmingham he jumped 2.27m to finish second in the specialist high jump event at Balingen.

Smith was grateful for the news, if a little taken aback, as he expected there to be another non-playing appointment after the success of the experiment in Budapest.

"That's why I was surprised," he said. "I didn't think I would be chosen. I thought they might have tried the same idea. But don't get me wrong - it's an honour to be picked." Smith, who spent 10 days in a neck brace after his freak training accident, is coming back to form at the right time. "I know I'm in great shape although I'm still rusty," he said. "I'm only a fraction away from 2.35 shape."

Six other names were added to the British team after the Birmingham event. Ross Baillie, the 21-year-old Scot who trains with Colin Jackson, confirmed his place in the 60m hurdles after running a personal best of 7.60sec. Jason Livingston joined Jason Gardener in the 60 metres, while Jamie Baulch's name went into the 400 metres after his victory in 45.60sec, the fastest in the world this year.

John Regis also booked a trip for the championships, which begin in Maebashi on 5 March, after defeating the AAA indoor champion, Marcus Adam, and America's reigning world indoor champion, Kevin Little, over 200m.

"A lot of people have said I am too old,' said the 32-year-old former world silver medallist. "But I will not be hanging up my spikes for a long time." Janine Whitlock, who raised her UK pole vault record to 4.29m, will double up in the 60 metres, and Diane Allahgreen will take a place in the 60m hurdles. A final wave of selections will be announced on 25 February.

But if Birmingham proved productive for several Brits, it was highly profitable for Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie, who picked up a $50,000 (pounds 30,000) bonus for setting the 15th world record of his career in the 5,000 metres.

Gebrselassie, who beat the mark established by his Kenyan rival Daniel Komen last year with a time of 12min 50.38sec, reckoned he had lost at least a second to the three back markers who threatened to ruin his evening as they unwittingly balked him on the final bend.

"When those runners came across the track at the end I thought I had lost the world record," said Gebrselassie. "They seemed to be running in all three lanes and I was scared I might not get past." But the encouragement of a sell-out 8,500 crowd, at least 500 of whom were British-based Ethiopians, saw the world outdoor 5,000 and 10,000m record holder home.

A 16th world record is already in his sights - outdoors over 3,000 metres - and he plans to retain his world 10,000m title in Seville this summer.

GREAT BRITAIN SQUAD (for World Indoor championbships in Maebashi, (including those previously selected): Men: 60m: J Gardener (Wessex & Bath), J Livingston (Shaftesbury Barnet); 60m hurdles: C Jackson (Brecon), R Baillie (Sale); 200m: J Regis (Belgrave), M Adam (Haringey); 400m: J Baulch (Cardiff), D Ladejo (Belgrave); 800m: A Hart (Coventry); 1500m: E King (Sale); High Jump: S Smith (Liverpool); Pole Vault: N Buckfield (Crawley); 4x400m relay: J Baulch, S Baldock (Belgrave), A Condon (Sale), D Ladejo, A Patrick (Windsor Slough & Eton), S Wariso (Haringey). Women: 60m: C Bloomfield (Woodford Green), J Whitlock (Trafford); 60m hurdles: K Maddox (Sale), D Allahgreen (Liverpool); 200m: S Anderson (Shaftesbury Barnet); 400m: S Dudgeon (Edinburgh Woollen Mill); Pole Vault: J Whitlock; Triple Jump: A Hansen (Shaftesbury Barnet).

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