Athletics: Gardener win points to a golden Olympics

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The Independent Online

In the end, Jason Gardener was wrong. It didn't take a personal best to earn him his first global gold medal. The 28-year-old Bath athlete put everything together beautifully here last night to claim the World Indoor 60 metres title in a time of 6.49sec, 0.03sec ahead of the American who took the world indoor 200m title three years ago, Shawn Crawford.

Gardener's winning time was slower than his European record of 6.46sec, but he could not have cared less after a victory which marks the high point of what has been an outstanding career on the boards.

He now has a world gold to add to the bronzes he won in 1999 and 2003, as well as two European indoor titles from 2000 and 2002. And so the big question remains: can his success translate from indoors to out with the Olympics just five months away?

While he acknowledged the wider challenge his victory had provoked, the quietly spoken champion was understandably keen to relish an achievement that has eluded him since he arrived on the international scene nine years ago.

Gardener is the first Briton to win this title - Linford Christie and Darren Braithwaite earned world 60m silver medals in 1991 and 1995 respectively - and in doing so he recorded his fifth sub-6.50sec time of the season, something no other sprinter has bettered.

He knew the victory was his as he crossed the line before bouncing back off the yellow padding on top of the track banking and returning to the centre of the arena with arms aloft for the benefit of the massed photographers. Then, with a Union flag conveniently provided by one of a group of British supporters on the back straight, he completed a beaming lap of honour.

"World champion," Gardener said after completing his happy circuit. "Doesn't that sound nice? I'm very proud to have come here rated No 1 in the world and won. It was not an easy thing to do.

"This is a benchmark," he added, "and I'm going to enjoy it. It's moments like this that have kept my motivation going.

"I've had a lot of ups and downs in my career. I've achieved some good things, but of course I want to achieve my full potential. I haven't been thinking of the summer, though - I've been keeping my focus on what I wanted to achieve in the indoor season."

Gardener praised the assistance of Malcolm Arnold, who took over his coaching two years ago from the man who had guided him from junior days, Dave Lease.

It was the fourth global title that Arnold has been associated with - in 1972 he coached Uganda's John Akii-Bua to the Olympic 400m hurdles title, he helped prepare the Canadian Mark McKoy before he won the Olympic 110m hurdles title 20 years later, and, of course, he has been the guiding force for Colin Jackson in a high hurdles career that contained every honour except the Olympic title.

"I felt I needed a change to move up to another level, and although I am very grateful for everything Dave did for me, I have complete confidence in Malcolm," Gardener said. "What Colin has achieved with Malcolm has given me so much confidence in what I'm doing."

Having won his morning heat in 6.56sec, Gardener had served notice of intent with a commanding performance in the semi-final, getting away to a near-perfect start to pull smoothly away from the field and finish two metres clear in the same time he produced in the final.

"I had a stomach upset before this morning's race, but the semi-final really pulled me up," he said. "To be running so consistently fast is very encouraging. But keeping healthy is the most important thing for me.

"I have worked harder than ever in my life over the last two years - I've done more conditioning work, and more track work and I've strengthened my core and my legs.

"I always used to think I had limitations, because I got a lot of back and hamstring problems. But now I've done the hard work, which I didn't think I'd be able to cope with, funnily enough the back is the best it's ever been."

And so is Gardener, who now looks ready to revisit the sub-10sec 100m territory he has entered only once before, with a 9.98sec timing in 1998.

His victory is a timely positive development for British athletics in the wake of Dwain Chambers's positive drugs test and subsequent two-year ban.

"I hope this helps to put an end to a lot of the negative news about British athletics," Gardener said. "It's not every day a Briton wins world gold. Now I'm going to relax and have a beer. I haven't had one for months."

He was entitled to drink long and deep after reaching the high point of his career - so far.

Gail Devers, the double Olympic 100m champion from the United States, claimed her third world indoor 60m title at the age of 37, finishing in a season's best of 7.08sec ahead of Belgium's European indoor champion, Kim Gevaert, who took her national record down to 7.12.

Devers, whose nails remain at a bizarre, talon-like length, will set out tomorrow in defence of the 60m hurdles title she won in Birmingham last March, which would complete a double never previously accomplished.