British women raise the standard

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The Independent Online
Colin Jackson's egregious new hairstyle - shorn high, dyed orange - provided an element of novelty at Saturday's McDonald's International against Russia. As did the banal use of the Queen anthem "We Will Rock You" - drumbeats only, mind - which made random appearances between and during races. It was about as appropriate as half-time drum majorettes at football matches. And much more irritating.

But the opening international meeting of the domestic season also produced an element of genuine surprise and substance as the British women, who managed only one victory in the corresponding fixture last year, won six events.

The Russians were not at their best - having arrived in Birmingham at 2am after a delayed flight - but there was a buoyancy about the British women's performance which brought to mind their inspired display in last season's European Cup.

Paula Thomas completed a sprint double. Jacqui Agyepong won the 60m hurdles in a British record time of 8.05sec. Ann Griffiths front-ran to an 800m victory over the world and European indoor champion, Yekaterina Podkopayeva.

Kate Staples, competing in the arena where she is more used to performing as her alter ego, Zodiac, in The Gladiators television programme, raised her own Commonwealth record to 3.75m in what was the first women's pole vault event to be included in an international. And Ashia Hansen set a new Commonwealth indoor triple-jump record of 14.17m.

"The Russian standards have fallen a little bit for whatever reason," Griffiths said. "We are that bit closer, and so we are giving it a go."

Agyepong expressed the same sentiments with a little more vehemence. "British women athletes are sick of being put down," she said. "Now we are ready to do what we are capable of doing."

Hansen, a 23-year-old who was born in Indiana and lived for six years in Ghana before coming to this country, has taken a similarly roundabout route to the triple jump. She started as a middle distance runner, tried sprinting, moved on to the high jump, then the long jump before settling on her present discipline. In Hansen and Michelle Griffith, Britain has two triple jumpers who could make an impact at this year's World Championships.

Jackson, who describes his new hairstyle as "Americanised", contributed fully to the British men's 72-64 victory with an expected double over 60m flat and hurdles. John Regis was similarly impressive in winning the 200m in 20.65sec. He has decided to compete at the World Indoor Championships; Bruno Marie-Rose's world record of 20.36 looks in danger.

Details, Sporting Digest, page 28