Athletics / Worls Athletics Championships: Gunnell in the mood for a gold medal: The hurdlers take centre stage for Great Britain. Mike Rowbottom reports from Stuttgart

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The Independent Online
SALLY GUNNELL seeks to emulate Linford Christie tonight in following victory at the Olympics with a world title. She goes into the 400 metres hurdles final bearing the same weight of expectation that her compatriot took into the 100m final on Sunday night.

Like Christie, Gunnell has beaten all of her rivals this season, including Margarita Ponomaryova of Russia and Sandra Farmer-Patrick of the United States, who took the silver behind her in Barcelona. Tatyana Ledovskaya, who beat Gunnell to the world title two years ago after she had stuttered at the final hurdle, went out in Tuesday's semi-final. The omens for the Briton are outstandingly good.

Not that Gunnell will be complacent. Although she achieved a favourable draw in the final - lane four - after running under 54 seconds in her semi-final, she is well aware that her two main rivals qualified faster. 'It will be too close to call in the final,' said Farmer-Patrick, whose ungainly technique has improved recently.

But Gunnell's almost faultless technique and range of ability, from 100m hurdles to 400m flat, provide the potential to threaten Marina Stepanova's seven-year-old world record of 52.94 tonight. 'If it takes a world record to win, Sally will run a world record,' her coach, Bruce Longen, said.

What Gunnell has above all else is competitiveness. 'In terms of competition, she is the female equivalent of the Ice Man,' Britain's director of coaching, Frank Dick, said. 'She homes in on what she has to do.'

Britain's other gold medal hurdling prospect, Colin Jackson, has pronounced himself fully fit after his withdrawals earlier this month from the Cologne and Zurich meetings with foot and back problems. 'Colin is in the best shape of his life,' his coach, Malcolm Arnold, said.

Inevitably Jackson, who runs the first round of the 110m hurdles today, was asked to address the fact that his training partner, Mark McKoy, the Olympic champion, would not be competing - he was not picked by Canada having missed the national trials and now has a hamstring injury. 'I've beaten Mark three times this year,' Jackson said. 'If those victories mean nothing, then so be it.'

Next came the charge - recently verbalised by one of his American rivals, Tony Dees, - that, having failed at the last World Championships and Olympic Games, he was a 'choker', unable to produce under pressure. 'Tony ran behind me in the last championships, the world indoors. So if I'm a choker, what is he?'

It was all done with a smile; Jackson appears encouragingly relaxed, even though he did confess to being anxious to get on with things. 'It's important for me to go out and win this,' he said. 'There isn't any reason why I can't. To be honest, I think the silver medal is wide open.'

Elsewhere there was mixed news for Britain. As David Grindley, whose leg injury has not improved sufficiently for him to run the 4 x 400m relay, prepared to fly home, Phylis Smith, who withdrew from the individual 400m with hamstring trouble, announced that she was now fit to fly over and join the women's 4 x 400 team.

Meanwhile, Steve Smith, the world's No 1 high jumper last year, has been receiving intensive treatment on a back injury suffered in training on Tuesday. It would be frustrating if this athlete from the 'Gunnell School of Competitiveness' is prevented from taking part when the men's qualifying starts tomorrow.

Nourredine Morceli, the world record-holder and defending champion, arrived in Stuttgart yesterday in time for today's 1500m first round. Morceli, who had threatened to boycott the championships if he was not offered appearance money, agreed to run after talks with the International Amateur Athletic Federation.

TODAY'S PROGRAMME: 0900 Decathlon 100m (men); 0920 High jump qualifying (women); 0930 100m hurdles first round (w); 0955 Decathlon long jump (m); 1015 110m hurdles first round (m); 1100 3,000m steeplechase first round (m); 1130 Decathlon shot put (m); 1150 200m second round (m); 1500 Decathlon high jump (m); 1600 Pole vault Final (m); 1620 Long jump qualifying (m); 1630 200m semi-finals (w); 1650 1500m first round (m); 1730 100m hurdles semi- finals (w); 1810 200m semi-finals (m); 1820 Discus Final (w); 1830 400m hurdles Final (w); 1850 400m hurdles Final (m); 1910 Decathlon 400m (m); 1940 200m Final (w); 1955 10,000m first round (w).

(Photograph omitted)