Athletics: Gardener squeezes narrow win in European trials

Britain's Olympic medallists Jason Gardener and Kelly Sotherton stated their continuing ambition here yesterday, while for the triple jumper Phillips Idowu, the long jumper Nathan Morgan and the pole vaulter Janine Whitlock, the Norwich Union European trials and AAA Championships offered an opportunity for old ambitions to be revived.

Britain's Olympic medallists Jason Gardener and Kelly Sotherton stated their continuing ambition here yesterday, while for the triple jumper Phillips Idowu, the long jumper Nathan Morgan and the pole vaulter Janine Whitlock, the Norwich Union European trials and AAA Championships offered an opportunity for old ambitions to be revived.

Gardener went to his blocks in the 60m final as an ex-European record-holder, thanks to Ronald Pognan's performance at Karlruhe earlier in the afternoon - the Frenchman took one hundredth of a second off the mark of 6.46sec which the Briton set on the same swift German track last year.

Things did not go entirely smoothly for the 29-year-old Olympic relay gold medallist on home territory, either, as he was pushed all the way to the line by Mark Findlay, who finished one hundredth of a second behind him in a personal best of 6.61sec.

"I dropped out of the blocks in the final and my record's been broken," Gardener said. "It's not the best. But there's life in me yet, and I still think I can run a personal best at the Europeans."

Britain's world indoor champion will have the chance to sharpen his form in Birmingham on Friday against the likes of Maurice Greene, Kim Collins and Mark Lewis-Francis.

Meanwhile Sotherton, bronze medallist in the Athens heptathlon, completed a satisfying weekend by adding three more personal bests to the distance of 6.43 metres she had set in the previous day's long jump, where she was beaten by a final effort of 6.50 from Jade Johnson.

The former debt collector, who had also shot-putted 13.77m on Saturday, recorded a high jump of 1.80m in an event won by Susan Jones in 1.90m. The 60m hurdles event brought Sotherton further personal bests of 8.47sec in the heats and 8.40sec in a final in which Sarah Claxton, who had set a British record of 7.98sec a week earlier, reduced it by another 0.02sec to earn a cheque for $5,000 (£2,600).

Idowu produced one of the performances of the weekend with a last-round effort of 17.30m in the triple jump , the furthest in the world this season and well inside the European qualifying mark.

Despite a characteristically extravagant streak of gold in his hair, Idowu looked dull throughout most of the competition as he chased a personal best of 16.76m from Nathan Douglas.

But after landing his sixth and final effort, he broke into his broad, trademark grin for the first time, looking up for confirmation to his coach in the stand, the former European Cup winner John Herbert, before sinking to his knees in relief.

Asked if he had any demons to exorcise following his Olympic failure, he readily assented. "I did," he said. "Right from the beginning. My last competition was horrible." But he dismissed the idea that he had ever contemplated giving up the sport. "Not at all," he said. "I haven't fulfilled my potential, and there's a lot more to come." Idowu's next target is the national indoor record of 17.46m held by former Olympic champion Jonathan Edwards - who is on BBC duty here, failed to provoke even the glimmer of a smile from Herbert as he noted in passing: "Not bad for a young pup." Herbert believes his charge is capable of jumping 18 metres this season, and does not put Edwards' world record of 18.29m out of his reach.

"There is only one way he can redeem himself after his four no-jumps fiasco at the Olympics," Herbert said. "And that is to go out this year and win a major title." While Herbert said that Idowu took an age to get over the Olympic failure, Idowu's own take on it was slightly different. "A couple of weeks of partying and it was forgotten," he said.

There is also a spring back in Whitlock's step after a two-year enforced absence because of a doping ban. Whitlock was relieved to earn a warm reception as she qualified with a winning mark of 4.25m in the pole vault. "In my situation you can get people staring and making comments," she said. "But it was great today." The British woman's progress was set in context, however, by the previous day's world indoor record of 4.87m set in Donetsk by Russia's Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva.

Morgan, who missed out on Olympic qualification last year at the expense of Chris Tomlinson, defeated his rival by a margin of five centimetres - 7.96m to 7.91m - in the long jump and earned the European qualifier in so doing, despite the fact that he was suffering from a bruised heel which caused him to pull out after just one jump.

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