Athletics: Year of the young ones

Athletics ushers in a new generation game as Hylton, Hunte and Agyepong take up the baton for the great indoors
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The Independent Online
GRADUALLY British athletics must come to terms with the fact that the Big Three, Linford Christie, now 34, Sally Gunnell, 28, and Colin Jackson, 27, are all looking for their last big one - next year's Olympics. This is the season in which their successors have to emerge. Yesterday in Birmingham youth flourished at the Amateur Athletic Association indoor championships. A lot is going to be expected of 18-year-old Mark Hylton, of Windsor, Slough and Eton, who later this year hopes to become the sixth British 400 metres runner in succession to win the European junior championship. The question is whether he is powerful enough to be a future Olympic medallist, not perhaps in Atlanta but the year 2000. Yesterday he faced the vastly more experienced international Brian Whittle and the Frenchman Jacques Farraudiere, who runs for Birchfield Harriers.

Hylton was far from over-awed. He allowed Whittle and Farraudiere to take an early lead but was calm enough to wait until 300 metres out before taking them on and beating Whittle by several strides to win in a British junior record time of 46.56 seconds.

Whittle was gracious enough afterwards to say "It doesn't take an Einstein to realise that this boy could be huge." Following in the line of David Grindley and Roger Black, Hylton has quite a challenge ahead and he said he was surprised by his performance. "We've got so many good 400 metres runners; hopefully in two years I'll be with them. But now I haven't even got a sponsor."

Among those who may also break through this season are the Forest Gate-born Abigail Hunte, 23, who, until she qualified for yesterday's 800 metres final, was virtually unknown in Britain having never before run here. Since the age of five she has been inthe United States. She is in Britain on holiday and will soon go back, but after her victory yesterday she said she would stay on to run, if selected, for Britain against France in Glasgow next weekend and then attempt to qualify for the World Indoor Championship team.

The continuing progress of Jacqui Agyepong suggests that she should be one of the new generation of successes. Having broken the British indoor record for the 60 metres hurdles the week before, she won the 200m in a personal best time of 24.22sec. Her graceful style and immense potential ought perhaps to have brought her more titles but the last year has seen her mature as a tactical athlete. Agyepong also entered the 60 metres but was unable to cope with the finishing speed ofStephanie Douglas, whose 7.28sec was the fastest by a Briton this year.

Having set Scottish indoor records for the 60m and 400m already this season, Melanie Neef improved the 400 time to 52.82sec yesterday to become the third fastest Briton of all time behind Gunnell and Verona Elder.

Christie's decision to run the 60m in Glasgow has effectively left only one place in this event in the British team which is to be selected today. The claimants do not include John Regis who yesterday entered the short sprint simply to give him some morespeed training.

Regis finished only fourth while the defending champion, Michael Rosswess of Birchfield, won in 6.63sec. The previous week he had achieved exactly the same time when second to Colin Jackson on this track.

The return of Solomon Wariso to international status can hardly be delayed, since yesterday he ran superbly to beat Darren Braithwaite on the line after an outstanding 200m. Wariso, who last summer was suspended for three months after taking a banned substance, is expected to take his place in the British team next weekend. Fighting back after Braithwaite had taken the lead, he finished in 20.87sec, a championship record. The previous holder was Christie.