Athletics / World Indoor Athletics Championships: Outlaw's shadow helps indoor party: Mike Rowbottom reports from Toronto on a weekend of world-class action starting today

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WHATEVER spectacle this weekend's World Indoor Championships in the Toronto Skydome produces, it will be hard to match the one which diverted the viewing public there during a baseball match played in April 1990, shortly after the stadium opened. While the Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays engaged on the pitch, the collective attention of the 60,000 people present was drawn to an overlooking room in the hotel which is built into the complex, where a couple were making love.

The hotel now asks visiting couples to sign a waiver acknowledging that the windows in the stadium- facing rooms can be seen into as well as out of. 'We ask them to close the curtains if they want to . . . how shall we say . . . become amorous,' the hotel's front- of-house manager, Alan McCauley, said. 'Nobody has refused to sign yet. People get a real kick out of it.'

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the championships themselves. No Sergei Bubka. No Quincy Watts. No Carl Lewis. And of course, no Ben Johnson, although that particular resident of Toronto could not compete now even if he wanted to.

Curiously enough, the news of Johnson's second positive drugs test, and his subsequent life ban, has helped rather than hindered the event. Since the Toronto Star broke the story the Tuesday before last, there have been a further 25,000 tickets sold, bringing the total over three days to 68,000. Another 10,000 were expected to be sold before competition gets underway today, thus representing a world record for an indoor championship in a country where baseball and ice hockey are the main attractions by a very long way.

Despite the lack of some charismatic personalities, those who invest an average of dollars 20 ( pounds 13) in a ticket - and indeed the 500m expected television viewers in a total of 90 countries - will witness some genuinely world-class competition.

The 60 metres hurdles is one of the strongest events, and also represents what is probably Britain's best chance of adding to the sole world indoor gold medal they have gained since the biennial event officially began in 1987 - earned by John Regis over 200m in 1989.

Colin Jackson leads the world rankings this season with 7.44sec, a time he has done twice. He has beaten all his major rivals: his friend and training partner, Mark McKoy, the Americans Tony Dees and Greg Foster, who holds the indoor world record of 7.36. He is, according to his coach, Malcolm Arnold, in perfect shape after his first full winter's training since 1989-90.

All Jackson has to do to collect gold is to maintain his superiority. But that is not so easily done, as his traumatic experience in last year's Olympics demonstrated. 'I know I have run 7.44, but 10 people have run under 7.60 this season,' Jackson said. 'That makes it very difficult, because you are only talking about a yard of difference, and if you make one mistake you have no chance to make up for it. That's why I think it is more difficult to win a title indoors than outdoors.'

The 60m track, which is situated outside the main oval, is the one on which the 1987 World Indoor Championships in Indianapolis were run. The winner of the 60m flat on that occasion was Johnson, in a now discredited world record of 6.41, which would seem to suggest that the surface, which has been purchased and re-laid in Toronto, is conducive to fast times. Jackson, however, finds it too spongy for his liking.

For Steve Smith, who takes part in the men's high jump, a soft surface is ideal. 'I tend to be injury prone on hard surfaces,' he said. 'It's as much a psychological thing as anything.' Britain's 19-year-old world junior champion has seen his position as joint No 1 in this season's world rankings change to joint third as both Hollis Conway, the US world indoor champion, and Javier Sotomayor, the Cuban Olympic champion and world record holder, have jumped a centimetre higher at 2.37.

That may take a little pressure off Smith, however, without leaving him feeling that the gap is unbridgeable. All three men are taking part this weekend, as well as the US world champion, Charles Austin, Patrik Sjoberg, of Sweden, the former world record holder, and Dalton Grant, whom Frank Dick, Britain's director of coaching, sees as having an outside chance of a medal alongside his six main nominations - Jackson, Smith, Tom McKean in the 800m, Jonathan Edwards in the triple jump, and Yvonne Murray and John Mayock over 3,000m.

McKean has restored his confidence this season after his Olympic disappointment, and is ready to take on a field which includes Italy's Giuseppe D'Urso, who leads the world rankings with 1min 45.44sec, and Kenya's Robert Kibet. Murray is in the form to take on America's world cross-country champion, Lynn Jennings, over 3,000m after winning a 5,000m road race in Los Angeles in 15min 20sec despite temperatures of more than 90 F. Mayock, European indoor silver medallist at 3,000m last year, will be stretched by Algeria's Olympic 5,000m champion, Khalid Skah, Kenya's Moses Kiptanui, Italy's Gennaro di Napoli, and Joe Falcon, of the US.

Both the 60m events offer strong competition - the home runner Bruny Surin, world ranked No 1 this season with 6.45sec, faces the Olympic 100 and 200m silver medallist, Frankie Fredericks of Namibia, and Dennis Mitchell, the US Olympic 100m bronze medallist. In the women's competition, Russia's world record holder, Irina Privalova, meets the previous world record holder, Merlene Ottey of Jamaica. Gail Devers, the Olympic 100m champion, also races.

----------------------------------------------------------------- TORONTO SCHEDULE ----------------------------------------------------------------- TODAY 14.30 Long jump qualifying (women). 14.30 Shot put qualifying (men). 14.45 3,000m walk first round (w). 15.05 60m first round (w). 15.45 60m first round (m). 16.15 400m first round (w). 16.30 Triple jump qualifying (m). 16.35 800m first round (m). 17.00 High jump qualifying (w). 17.15 3,000m first round (w). 17.45 4 x 400m relay first round (w). 18.10 4 x 400m relay first round (m). 22.10 60m semi-finals (w). 22.15 Long jump final (w). 22.30 60m semi-finals (m). 22.50 3,000m first round (m). 23.00 Pole vault qualifying. 23.20 800m first round (w). 23.40 1500m first round (m). 00.15 400m first round (m). 00.50 60m final (w). 01.00 Shot put final (m). 01.10 60m final (m). TOMORROW 15.00 Long jump qualifying (m). 16.45 5,000m walk first round (m). 17.45 High jump qualifying (m). 18.00 60m hurdles first round (w). 18.20 60m hurdles first round (m). 18.45 200m first round (w). 19.05 200m first round (m). 19.45 Triple jump qualifying (w). 19.45 1500m first round (w). 20.15 400m semi-finals (w). 20.35 400m semi-finals (m). 00.00 High jump final (w). 00.00 60m hurdles semi- finals (w). 00.10 Triple jump final (m). 00.20 60m hurdles semi-finals (m). 00.30 Pole vault final. 00.40 200m semi-finals (w). 01.00 200m semi-finals (m). 01.20 3000m final (w). 01.40 800m semi-finals (w). 02.00 800m semi-finals (m). 02.00 Long jump final (m). 02.20 3,000m walk final (w). 02.45 4 x 400m relay final (w). 03.05 4 x 400m relay final (m). 03.30 1500m final (m). SUNDAY 17.00 Triple jump final (w). 17.15 Shot put final (w). 17.30 5,000m walk final (m). 18.00 60m hurdles final (w). 18.15 60m hurdles final (m). 18.30 400m final (w). 18.45 400m final (m). 19.00 800m final (w). 19.15 800m final (m). 19.30 200m final (w). 19.30 High jump final (m). 19.45 200m final (m). 20.00 1500m final (w). 20.25 3,000m final (m). All times GMT -----------------------------------------------------------------

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