Edwards outshone by Hansen

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The Independent Online
Athletics

MIKE ROWBOTTOM

reports from Gateshead

A crowd which had come to praise a local hero, Jonathan Edwards, duly did so here last night as he made a winning return after his record-breaking World Championships performance.

He managed only one sound triple jump of 17.49 metres in the Bupa Challenge, but it was enough. For him, the subsequent lap of honour in front of his home supporters was the main event.

"It wasn't about winning or even jumping a long way tonight," he said. "It was about saying thank you to the northeast people and celebrating what happened in Gothenburg.

"The crowd were fantastic. This kind of reaction is normally reserved for people like Sebastian Coe or Linford Christie. For me to get it is really special.

"It was the first time I had been able to relax in competition this season. 17.49 would have been a personal best for me before this year. But I am very tired now." Edwards, nevertheless, plans to compete in Brussels, London, Rieti and Sardinia this season.

In terms of achievement on the night, there was more reason to applaud the triple jumping of another Britain. Ashia Hansen broke her British and Commonwealth record twice in the space of three jumps, recording 14.57m and then 14.66m. In doing so she elevated herself to a level where she can realistically challenge for an Olympic medal next year.

It was the fifth successive national record for the 23-year-old from North Finchley, and her third in the space of five days - she set a record of 14.38 last Wednesday in Zurich.

"I feed off Jonathan," she said. "He is a speed jumper, like me. I just like the way he runs."

Unlike Edwards, Hansen came to this match after a disappointing World Championships. Hampered by a bruised heel that had kept her out of action for a month, she failed to reach the final in Gothenburg. But in her case, the old athletics axiom - Learning From The Experience - has been borne out in subsequent performances.

"I had an awful time in Gothenburg," she said. "I realised when I came home it was the run-up that was the problem. Taking 21 strides was too long for me - I couldn't keep my momentum going."

So she shortened it to 16 strides. The result - records. Also a growing sense that she can maintain her progress this season - which she started with a record of 14.09 - and become a genuine Olympic contender.

"Now that I have jumped this far I believe it is a real possibility," she said.

In truth, this international match between a depleted British team and third-string United States opposition - postponed and relocated from its original venue at Edinburgh in July - was "An Event Too Far". For all the appreciation accorded Edwards, the crowd numbered only 8,014 - a far cry from the days when this stadium would be packed to see the likes of Brendan Foster and Steve Cram. It was sad circumstantial detail that a promotional wall display at the stadium featured three leading athletes - Linford Christie, Sally Gunnell and Kelly Holmes - none of whom were here.

Others did their best to fill the gaps, however. Colin Jackson won the 110m hurdles, holding off the world silver medalist Tony Jarrett, in a time of 13.18sec. Jackson then announced his involvement in a less-than- enticing event at the end of the season. He will have his tonsils and a cartilage in his right knee taken out at the same time while under general anaesthetic. "It's my 200,000 miles service," he said. "I'm more nervous about the tonsils to be honest. His knee problem, similar to that which has afflicted his friend Christie, prevents him applying full power when approaching the hurdles. In the circumstances, he is running well.

Steve Backley, a silver medalist in Gothenburg, won the javelin with a throw of 83.00 metres, and John Regis took full points in the 200m but only after Antuan Maybank had been disqualified. That helped Britain's men win 203-182. Britain's women lost, 156.5-210.5.

Elsewhere, there were unremarkable performances by the likes of Mark Richardson, Roger Black and Steve Smith. Weary athletes at a weary event.

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