Athletics: Sprinters handed lucrative baton

BRITAIN'S RISING hopes of earning relay medals at next month's World Championships in Seville have been boosted by news the four relay squads have received a sponsorship deal worth pounds 150,000 with GTECH UK Ltd, technology suppliers to the UK National Lottery. Dave Moorcroft, chief executive of UK Athletics, said: "We have a great tradition in relay and are looking forward to clashes with the USA in Seville and Sydney. This sponsorship will ensure the squad ethic can continue to develop."

The most marked area of improvement is in the men's 4x100m, where a squad which took bronze at the 1997 World Championships and gold at last summer's European Championships has been strengthened by the emergence of Jason Gardener and Dwain Chambers as sub-10 second performers in the individual event this season. Speaking after last weekend's 100m final at the CGU World Trials, all three of Britain's leading male sprinters - Gardener, Chambers and the European champion Darren Campbell - expressed their determination to beat the United States in Seville next month.

The absence through injury of European and Commonwealth champion Iwan Thomas has diminished this year's chances for the men's 400m team, which won silver medals at the last world championships and Olympics before taking European gold last summer. But with Mark Richardson, Solomon Wariso, Jamie Baulch and Mark Hylton on the scene, there are still clear medal prospects this summer.

In the women's 100m, Joice Maduaka has emerged this season as the new leading domestic figure as she moves closer to Kathy Cook's 1984 UK record of 11.10sec. Although the 400m squad will be without the services of Allison Curbishley this season, as she recovers from a knee operation, the startling success enjoyed by Katharine Merry, whose time of 50.62sec in Birmingham on Sunday was the third fastest in British history, has energised an event which can draw further support from the new talent of 400m hurdlers Sinead Dudgeon and Natasha Danvers, and Kerri Maddox, in the form of her life over both the 100 and 400m hurdles this season.