Edwards in a world of his own

Norman Fox finds hope in Britain's dwindling prospects for Olympic success

Jonathan Edwards, whose triple jump world record and world title last season thrust him into a spotlight he never expected and in which he was uncomfortable, has become Britain's only serious prospect of an Olympic athletics gold in Atlanta later this month. He is also predicting another world record.

Hopes of lesser medals now rest mainly with the skills of a German doctor who is treating Linford Christie, a Swiss specialist mending Sally Gunnell, a chance that Jan Zelezny may fail on the big day and let in Steve Backley in the javelin, Kelly Holmes's renowned courage, and inspired performances by Colin Jackson and Roger Black.

Edwards is back on course for gold, having extended his unbeaten record to 20 competitions when, on Friday night in adverse conditions in Oslo, he leapt 17.68 metres into a head wind. Such a distance was worth several centimetres more in the expected hot, still conditions of the Olympics in Atlanta. For the first time this season, he finished an event beaming that angelic smile that became almost too familiar last summer. "I really feel that I am back in the rhythm of last season - it's a great relief. I feel that I'm within reach of another huge leap," he said.

Christie's decision not to appear in Oslo was the result of slight hamstring inflammation suffered two days earlier when he was thoroughly beaten by Frankie Fredericks, his enormously confident Namibian training partner who went from Lausanne to Norway and caused Michael Johnson's first 200m defeat in 38 races. In hindsight it was probably as well that Christie was not in Oslo to see Fredericks in such impressive form.

The Olympic organisers must be overjoyed to see that Johnson, the new 200m world record holder, has a challenger in at least one of his events (he is still unbeaten in the 400m since February 1989). There is now the appetising possibility of Fredericks going into the 200m final as the 100m champion and there facing Johnson who by then is almost certain to be the Olympic one-lap champion.

Asked about Christie, Fredericks said yesterday: "You can't ever count him out but it looks like he's not going to be a serious threat in either the 100 or 200m." Christie himself says that treatment by a German specialist has gone well and he intends running in Nice on Wednesday night when he hopes warm conditions will help avoid any further damage to his overstressed tendons. No matter what Fredericks may say, Christie's well-honed powers of concentration on the big occasion cannot be so easily underestimated. Nor can the determination of Sally Gunnell, who says that she should be back in training later this week after damaging a tendon in her left foot in Lausanne on Wednesday. Like Christie, she is also having treatment by a foreign specialist who says he has given her "aggressive therapy" to hasten recovery.

While Gunnell was running well in the early stages of the race in Lausanne, it seemed likely she would have been beaten by the world record holder, Kim Batten, and the in-form Tonja Buford-Bailey. That being the case, Gunnell would have known that she needed every day between now and Atlanta in full training and at least two more competitive races to close the gap. Her chances of retaining her Olympic 400m hurdles title are fast fading but she intends going to South Carolina this week to continue training.

When Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan comfortably beat Kelly Holmes in Oslo over 1,500m on Friday, Britain's problematic week seemed unhappily complete, but Holmes, who had been suffering from a cold, recorded her best time (4min 01.13sec) and was jubilant. "I'm getting quicker at the right time - it wasn't disappointing at all." She goes to Stockholm on Wednesday and runs in London on Friday, after which she will announce whether she intends running in the 800 and 1,500m in Atlanta - a tall order bearing in mind the expected conditions. For the moment all she says is that if she concentrates on the 1,500m she will not do the 800.

Suddenly the proximity of the Olympics is putting Britain's athletes under pressure. Colin Jackson, world record holder for the 110m hurdles, is coming back to form after his injuries, but whereas he thought Allen Johnson, of the United States, would be his main challenger, it now seems that the giant German Florian Schwarthoff, who defeated Johnson in Salamanca on Friday night, is going to make winning a medal of any colour all the more difficult.

At least Britain's decline in the men's middle-distance events seems to have been arrested by John Mayock, whose third place in Oslo's Dream Mile behind the invincible Noureddine Morceli in a time of 3min 50.32sec placed him a creditable sixth on the UK all-time list. An Olympic final place now seems likely. As for Roger Black, his latest British record for the 400m of 44.37sec suggests that he is likely to go to Atlanta as the fastest non- American in the event.

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