False start to Gardener's title hopes

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The Independent Online
Athletics: Jason Gardener, who entered these European Indoor Championships with real hope of winning the 60 metres title, failed to negotiate the first turn yesterday. Perhaps the 20-year-old from Bath, who headed the season's European rankings going into this event, had tempted providence the day before when he had declared proudly that he had never had a false start in his life.

It came yesterday. The sensitive blocks which form part of the new Seiko timing system registered illegal movement on his part, and knowing that a second infringement would cause him to be disqualified, he made such an inhibited start that he was unable to make up the lost ground.

As he walked from the track, he looked at Verona Elder, the British team manager, and she looked at him and no words came from either.

It was a cruel turn of events for a young man whose victory in the match against Russia two months ago - in the startlingly good time of 6.55sec - had unavoidably established him as the latest contender to fill the gap that will appear in British sprinting once Linford Christie retires.

That poisoned chalice was borne with dignity by the quietly spoken Gardener, as was yesterday's exit, which was confirmed two heats later when the two places on offer to fastest losers were claimed by two other athletes.

"I am very disappointed because these were my first major championships," he said. "The guy next to me moved, causing me to move, and I felt I was a little unlucky to be called. But rules are rules and you can't argue with them."

He had, in fact, encountered the same system before when it was introduced at last summer's World Championships. On that occasion, many runners complained that the equipment was overly sensitive, but Gardener, who ran the first leg of the sprint relay, did not experience any problems. Here he finished in a time of 6.79sec behind Charalambos Papadias, of Greece, and Harri Kivela, of Finland.

"I had to hold back in the re-run and in the 60 metres you can't afford to do that. It just shows that because you are in good form it doesn't mean you are going to win."

Earlier in the day the EAA technical delegate, Al Guy, had described this championship as "a galaxy in itself. In every galaxy a star is born every minute." When Gardener's minute arrived yesterday, it turned into a black hole.

There was no trauma for Du'aine Ladejo, Britain's defending 400m champion, who strolled through his first round in a time of 47.84sec, slowing dramatically over the final 100 metres.

Ladejo had criticised the tightness of the Globe Arena track on Thursday, but his first experience of it was better than he had expected. "I got into a good rhythm," he said. "It felt good." Ashraf Saber, of Italy, who leads this season's European rankings with 46.36sec - 0.03 faster than Ladejo - won his heat in 47.30. But Ladejo did not appear overly concerned. "If everyone else was here we wouldn't be looking at him," he said.

Ashia Hansen safely reached today's triple jump final with a leap of 14.32 metres, the second furthest of the day. It was a matter of no small relief. In the last three major championships she has contested - the 1994 European indoor and outdoor championships, and last year's world indoors - Hansen has failed to qualify. A good omen, perhaps.

Meanwhile, John Caine, the Nova race director in charge of last weekend's British world cross-country trials, has confirmed that the course was at least 1,000 metres short.

Robert Quinn, the Scottish champion who finished two places outside the first seven automatic qualifying positions, reacted angrily to the news. "If we had had another 1000 metres I'm sure I would have picked up at least two places."