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Athletics: Smith's hopes high for Seville

STEVE SMITH is striding out towards the World Championships in Seville this August with renewed confidence - even if he is still not taking as many strides as he used to.

The 26-year-old Liverpudlian, who won the high jump at Sunday's CGU Gateshead Classic with 2.36 metres, is still approaching the bar off a reduced run- up to prevent his troublesome right Achilles tendon from flaring up once again.

That problem is foremost in the mind of Smith, who has not reached such heights for six years, even though for most onlookers the injury which will forever be associated with this jumper concerns the neck. It was less than a year ago that Smith lay immobile on the landing bed after a horrific training accident at the Wavertree Stadium. He feared at first he would never be able to walk again; then he was afraid his competitive career was over. Neither proved to be the case and, since October, Smith has dedicated himself to regaining his position as one of the world's finest jumpers with the help of a new coach, Tudor Bidder, and a back- up team including physiotherapists Paula Wild and Neil Black.

Smith also relocated to Birmingham in order to make a fresh start to a career which has already brought him an Olympic bronze medal, European silver and world bronze.

Sunday's effort, off a run-up of seven rather than the full nine steps, was a tribute to his mental strength and technical ability. Afterwards he defined the word relieved.

"We were not expecting him to jump so high, but I would never have liked to say that it wasn't possible for him. That's the sort of height and beyond that he will need to get a medal in Seville. He probably needs the capacity to go a couple of jumps higher.

"But it's always nice when a plan comes together. Afterwards I think the phrase he used more than any was `I'm back'. His self-belief has always been the thing that has kept him going through all the dark times."

The next competition for Smith will be at St-Denis on Saturday. The plan is to jump once again with a seven-step run-up and then take a three-week training break in preparation for the World Championship trials, where he will jump off a full run-up. He then has meetings at Eberstadt (1 August) and Cologne (8 August) after which he will decide what is the best approach- run for him at the World Championships.

Characteristically, once he had jumped 2.36 on Sunday - only a centimetre below the British record he set in 1992 - Smith had made an attempt to clear 2.40, which has a special significance for all high jumpers. "He wasn't too far away with his third attempt," Bidder said. "But 2.40 is an awful long way up. But Steve will have that attempt fresh in his mind when he next comes to it."

The women's 1500 metres saw another performance full of guts and effort from Kelly Holmes, who suffered yet another injury setback in February of this year when she had to fly home from training in Australia with an Achilles problem.

In what was her season's debut Holmes - who made a late return from injury last season to earn the Commonwealth 1500m silver medal - looked as if she was going to suffer her first defeat by a fellow Briton for many years as the field came to the bell. But Holmes, as so often before, dug into her resources to overtake Hayley Tullett in the final straight. If they gave medals for fortitude, Holmes would have a cupboard full.

n Paul Edwards, the 1990 Commonwealth shot bronze medallist, has been suspended with immediate effect pending a drugs disciplinary hearing.