Gardener taking the baton from Christie

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When Jason Gardener was asked yesterday to comment on the fact that he is favourite to win today's 60 metres at the European Indoor Championships, he raised his eyebrows, took a deep breath, and composed himself, writes Mike Rowbottom.

Since the indoor match against Russia in January, when he won the 60m in a time of 6.55sec, which no European has yet bettered this season, Gardener has been sized up as Britain's Next Great Sprinter.

Given the experience of other young athletes similarly assessed in the past, you might think that those sprinters whom the gods seek to make mad, they first compare to Linford Christie. Jason Livingston, Darren Campbell, Danny Joyce - all have felt the Christie mantle fall heavily on their shoulders and staggered under the pressure.

In what is his first major international championship, Gardener, a quietly spoken 20-year- old from Bath, is attempting to remain light on his feet. "There is no pressure," he asserted. "As long as I run to the best of my ability I will be happy."

If this son of Jamaican and Irish parents does that, he has a good chance of retaining the title won for Britain two years ago by Colin Jackson, and two years before that by Livingston. His main rivals appear to be Marc Blume, of Germany, who has run 6.56 this year, Fernando Ramirez of Norway (6.57), Peter Karlsson of Sweden and his fellow countryman, Jason John.

Considering he regularly trains on a track in Melksham so poor it is not judged fit to hold meetings on, Gardener will no doubt regard the much-criticised Stockholm track as relatively acceptable. Whether he will have any problems with the new ultra- sensitive Seiko timing system which caused such distress to many athletes at last year's World Championships remains to be seen. "I have never false- started in my life," he said yesterday.

He accepts that British sprinters cannot live without reference to Christie, but says it is not necessarily a bad thing. "Having him around is good for me because he sets the standard. At the moment there are two different levels and I've got to try and establish myself." It was only two years ago that he won the European junior 100m title, something Britons have done on six out of the last seven occasions. None of those six have gone on to fulfil their potential. But that is a message Gardener, doing communication studies in his home city, is entitled to ignore. He has talent and time on his side.