Athletics: Gardener's sights set on conquering the great outdoors

Glasgow International: 'Bath Bullet' blasts to 60m Indoor victory but long-term goal is Commonwealth gold
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The Independent Online

From the Kelvin Hall to the Melbourne Cricket Ground is a distance of some 12,000 miles. For Jason Gardener, having launched himself on the long-haul journey with 22 high-speed steps yesterday, it is the small matter of an additional 40 metres that he is worried about between now and the opening day of Commonwealth Games track competition at the MCG on 19 March.

When it comes to the indoor sprint distance of 60m, there is nobody faster than the speeding "Bath Bullet". Not in 2006 at any rate. At the Moscow winter meeting last Wednesday night, Gardener clocked 6.60sec, the fastest time in the world this year. At the Norwich Union International in Glasgow yesterday, he improved to 6.59sec, pulling clear from the first few strides with his silky-smooth sprinting style to finish 0.05sec ahead of the Russian Andrey Yepishin. It was a 28th win in 33 indoor 60m races in the past three years for Gardener, who will be chasing number 29 at Karlsruhe in Germany this afternoon if he manages to make his connection via Heathrow and Stuttgart.

The pride of the Wessex and Bath Athletics Club is the world's pre-eminent speed merchant at the indoor sprint distance, with three European titles and one global crown to his name. At the age of 30, though, he has still to prove himself in the great outdoors.

Gardener happens to be the proud possessor of an Olympic relay gold medal, of course, but he has yet to win an international championship medal as a 100m runner. Indeed, he has only featured in two major championship finals: seventh in the 1999 World Championships and sixth in the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Hence his burning desire for a place on the podium in Melbourne in March and his decision to forsake the defence of his world indoor 60m crown in Moscow - and a potential prize of £22,500 - in the same month.

"It would be a massive thing for me to get on the rostrum," Gardener said. "I've been dominant over the 60m globally and it would be great to get a medal at 100m. I want to start achieving my full potential at 100m. I believe I have the capability to win medals in major championships. All I've got to do is put another 40m on the back of this, but that is easier said than done.

"It would be wrong for me to sit here and talk about winning a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, because that's totally disrespectful to my opposition. There are guys from the Commonwealth who have run faster than me, a lot faster. I mean 9.77sec. To put it bluntly, that's streets ahead of my best."

Gardener's best 100m time dates back to 1999 and a 9.98sec clocking in Lausanne. Asafa Powell ran his world record 9.77sec in Athens only last June. The Jamaican has since been stricken by a groin injury but returns to racing on home ground this weekend. Here was one of eight Commonwealth rivals ahead of Gardener on the world ranking list for the 100m last summer.

Certainly, times have moved on from Manchester in 2002, when the last Commonwealth 100m final was billed as a "battle of Britain" between the burgeoning Dwain Chambers and Mark Lewis-Francis. As it happened, both Britons limped across the line behind the sixth-placed Gardener, and have yet to make up the ground they lost that night. Chambers has since served a two-year ban but will be on the comeback trail in the indoor season if he can reach an agreement with the International Association of Athletics Federations over the repayment of earnings he made while assisted by steroids.

"It's unfortunate that Dwain went down the road he did," Gardener said, "but he's got his second chance and for his sake I hope he will cherish it. I've got no problem with him. Dwain Chambers is a nice guy. He made a mistake, but he's not an animal by any means. He's not the first athlete to use drugs and he won't be the last."

The anchorman in the French World Championships relay team in Helsinki last summer has just been questioned about the possession of growth hormone - if Lueyi Dovy is found to have contravened doping laws, the French 4 x 100m quartet will be stripped of the gold medals they won in Helsinki and Gardener and his British team-mates will be promoted from bronze medallists to silver medallists.

Despite Gardener's high-speed heroics, the British squad could only finish third in the five-team competition yesterday, behind Russia and a Commonwealth Select side. There were wins for Daniel Caines (400m), Nathan Morgan (long jump) and Andy Baddeley (1500m) plus a world record time for the Russian women's 4 x 400m relay team, 3min 23.37sec. There was a notable absence of British success in the women's events, though a hitherto unheralded British women's 800m runner was sitting in third place in the world rankings yesterday.

Running in Budapest on Friday night, Karen Harewood beat an international field in 2min 00.53sec. A former sprinter who returned to the sport after motherhood only two years ago, the Corby athlete has timed her emergence too late to qualify for Melbourne but finds herself a sudden medal contender for the World Indoor Championships in Moscow.

At 30, the same age as Jason Gardener, she has taken somewhat longer than the Bath Bullet to start hitting the bullseye.