Athletics: Flying start gives Johnson fresh impetus

Jade Johnson, long jump silver medallist at last year's Commonwealth Games and European Championships, got her outdoor season under way in highly promising fashion at the Bedford International Games yesterday.

The 22-year-old Herne Hill Harrier finished more than 50 centimetres clear of her nearest challenger, the heptathlete Julie Hollman, to win in 6.63 metres. That distance was better than she achieved in winning her Commonwealth medal in Manchester, and only 10cm off the personal best which earned her a European medal behind Russia's world No 1, Tatyana Kotova, in Munich.

It was just the start the vivacious Johnson required as she looks forward to a season which culminates in the World Championships at the Stade Français in Paris in August.

Meanwhile two of Britain's leading sprinters were also enjoying constructive outings as they began their run-in to the season proper. Mark Lewis-Francis, whose wind-assisted 100 metres time of 10.16sec in Florida three weeks ago is the fastest run by a Briton this year, recorded an easy victory at Bedford in 10.40sec.

The 20-year-old Birchfield Harrier was satisfied with his first appearance in Britain since coming to grief in the Commonwealth 100m final, especially as there was a 1.8 metres per second headwind.

"I finished injury-free, so I'm happy," he said. "It was a strong headwind, but I felt comfortable and there's a lot more to come. I'm happy to come away with no niggles."

Lewis-Francis's British colleague Darren Campbell was similarly buoyant after finishing third in yesterday's Thales FBK Games in Hengelo in a time of 10.33sec despite running into a headwind of more than two metres per second.

"Who would have thought I would have run 10.33 in those conditions at this stage of the season?" said the Olympic 200m silver medallist, who arrived at the meeting having had no sleep for 16 hours after missing his flight the previous night.

Iwan Thomas was another British athlete who enjoyed a profitable international trip at the weekend, winning his 400m race in Floro, Norway in a time of 45.94sec.

"It's a good start at international level and honestly I'm pleased," he said. "But I realise I've still got a long way to go before I can say that I will be back at the form I showed in 1998 when I won both the Commonwealth and European titles. But it's a step in the right direction."

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