Christie and Jackson trail in Americans' wake

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Linford Christie and Colin Jackson came down to earth with a bump at the first European grand prix meeting of the Olympic season in Rome last night, but Jonathan Edwards avoided what would have been his first triple jump defeat since September 1994 by winning with a last effort of 17.55 metres.

Edwards had looked out of sorts for most of the competition, which began late in cooling conditions after the women's long jump had overrun. But with a final jump he overhauled the Cuban Yoelvis Quesada, who had recorded 17.34.

to state his claim as a realistic Olympic challenger to Michael Johnson in Atlanta next month.

The Olympic 100m champion still has time to sharpen himself up before the Olympics next month - assuming, of course, that he wants to defend his title. "He has genuinely not made up his mind," said Christie's agent, Sue Barrett. "I wish he would. It would make my life easier."

But for Jackson, who struggled home in fourth place in 13.33sec behind America's world 110m hurdles champion, Allen Johnson, who recorded 13.23, the prospect is less comforting. Despite a good start, he was soon engulfed by three of his main American rivals, and appeared to be inhibited by the tendinitis he is suffering in his right knee. This was his third defeat in eight days, and there is much work to be done if he is to challenge for the Olympic title which he appeared on the brink of winning in 1992.

Christie finished in 10.10 behind the 30-year-old American, who recorded 10.05. Mitchell, who has already clocked 9.93 this season, arrived in Rome saying that he was ready to race "any man, any place". His inclusion in the race came as a surprise to Christie.

The Briton gained a measure of revenge by beating Mitchell in the 200m, clocking 20.29, but both finished well behind Fredericks, who came through strongly to establish himself as a genuine threat to the American world champion, Michael Johnson, in Atlanta. Patrick Stevens, of Belgium, set a personal best of 20.19 for second place, while Britain's John Regis, recovered from recent Achilles tendon problems, finished sixth in 20.60.

Jackson defeated by his British team-mate Tony Jarrett in Bratislava and by Florian Schwarthoff of Germany at the weekend's European Cup, was swiftly out of his blocks, but he hit the third hurdle heavily and began to drop behind.

As he did in the European Cup, Jackson was running with a tight, narrow strapping around his right knee to counteract his tendinitis.

The highlight of the Golden Gala meeting was an outstanding 5,000m race in which Salah Hissou of Morocco emerged as a potential Olympic challenger to the great Ethiopian Haile Gebreselassie with a winning time of 12min 50.80sec, the second fastest ever run. He accelerated away from Moses Kiptanui of Kenya, who broke the 5,000m record on the same track last year, before sinking to his knees and kissing the ground.

Sonia O'Sullivan of Ireland confirmed her status as a potential Olympic 5,000m champion with victory over a strong field in 14: 54.75.

Kelly Holmes will have been given plenty of food for thought after a determined display of front running brought her victory in the 1500m - and the fastest time in the world this year.

It followed two swift 800 runs and now she must decide whether to go for one or the other - or both - in Atlanta.

"I'll be sitting down to talk with my coach," Holmes said. "It's the hardest decision of my life."