Athletics: Gardener holds off challenge of young talents

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Jason Gardener got his season off to an ideal start in his home city of Bath yesterday as he broke the UK record for the rarely run indoor 100 metres twice before posting a promising 60 metres time of 6.63sec.

The Olympic relay gold medallist and reigning world indoor 60m champion held off two of Britain's most promising teenage sprinters, the world junior 100m champion, Craig Pickering, and world youth champion, Harry Aikines-Aryeetey. The meeting opened the new indoor hall at the University of Bath, home of the UK Athletics South West High Performance Centre.

Gardener's coach, Malcolm Arnold, was surprised to see his man running so swiftly at the start of a campaign in which his target is the Commonwealth Games 100m in Melbourne in March. The performances underlined the 30-year-old's ease on indoor tracks, where he has won three European titles and one world crown, as well as setting a European record of 6.46.

Gardener's task this season will be to transfer that ability to the outdoor track, and he will have one less distraction than usual as he will miss the World Indoor Championships in Moscow because of his commitments Down Under.

Aikines-Aryeetey delighted his coach, Matt Favier, by knocking five-hundredths of a second off his 60m personal best.

Gardener won his opening 100m race in 10.30, taking two-fifths of a second off the previous UK indoor record set by Mark Lewis-Francis at the opening of Birmingham's High Performance Centre in February 2003. Pickering started his first senior indoor season by clocking 10.49.

About an hour later, Gardener ran 10.29 while Pickering recorded 10.52. Another hour later, they turned their attention to the traditional indoor distance of 60m and were joined by Aikines-Aryeetey, who last summer became the first sprinter to win the 100m and 200m at an IAAF World Youth Championships and who last month was acclaimed as the BBC TV Young Sports Personality of the Year.

Again the experienced Gardener came out on top, clocking 6.65. Pickering in second ran 6.74, his fastest yet. Aikines-Aryeetey, in his first race of the winter, was third in 6.81, three-hundredths of a second outside the personal best he clocked at last winter's Norwich Union European Indoor Trials at Sheffield.

The final race was also won by Gardener, in 6.63. Aikines-Aryeetey, who responded much better to the gun this time, sped over the line in 6.73, which equalled the best time achieved by Gardener as an Under-20. Pickering took third in 6.77 at the end of a memorable, if exhausting afternoon for the trio.

Gardener last raced in Bath nine years ago. It will surely not be another nine before he returns.

The sisters-in-law, Hayley and Liz Yelling, produced strong performances to finish second and third in the Cross Internacional Zornotza in Amorebieta yesterday. Rose Morato clinched a home victory for Spain in 22min 19sec, but the British pair were in close pursuit.

Morato made the most of pre-race favourite Yimenashu Taye's absence, the Ethiopian having been unable to obtain a visa to attend the meeting. But she was made to fight all of the way in the 6,700m race by the pair who both got the better of her in last month's Spar European Cross Country Championships.

Hayley Yelling clocked 22.20, with Liz Yelling a second further off the pace.