Athletics: Gardener plans to make early point against domestic rivals

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The Independent Online

Not for the first time, the 60 metres event is likely to provide a major focus of attention at Glasgow's Kelvin Hall today as the domestic indoor season gets fully under way with the Norwich Union International meeting. And the man in the main frame is Jason Gardener.

The man who will seek a third European indoor title in Birmingham just over a month from now faces a testing challenge from two of his domestic rivals in a match featuring Britain, Germany, Sweden, the United States and a Commonwealth Select team.

His training partner at Bath, 20-year-old Craig Pickering, indicated his outstanding early season form last Saturday by recording a time of 6.56sec, the fastest run in the world so far this year. And the 31-year-old champion will also have to contend with Mark Lewis-Francis, who has been given a place in the Commonwealth team and is eager to stake his own claim as a contender to win the European title in his home city.

Francis who won Euro silver in 2002 and finished behind Gardener two years ago before being disqualified after testing positive for cannabis, will represent a Commonwealth Select side in the annual match also featuring teams from Great Britain, Germany, Sweden and the United States.

"I am looking forward to opening up my indoor season in Glasgow this weekend," he said. "It will give me the opportunity to see where I am at after the winter training. I am just back from warm weather training in South Africa.

"Overall I am very happy with how the past few months have gone. I feel fit and strong. My personal best for 60m is the world junior record of 6.51seconds. I would like to improve this time in 2007."

The domestic rivalry is due to continue a week today, when all three are booked to race in the Sparkassen Cup in Stuttgart.

Meanwhile the Commonwealth triple jump champion Phillips Idowu will be putting himself to the best possible test against world and Olympic champion Christian Olsson, who is part of a strong Swedish team that also includes Susanna Kallur, the European high hurdles champion, and world No 1 high jumper Kajsa Bergqvist.

Kelly Sotherton, Britain's Olympic bronze medallist and Commonwealth heptathlon champion, will test her early season form against both the latter athletes as she doubles up in the 60m hurdles and the high jump.

"I ran a personal best in the hurdles here last year and I'm hoping to beat that or at least match it," Sotherton said. "And I'm hoping to at least match my PB in the high jump."