Athletics: Hansen foot-perfect again

One Saturday afternoon in March Ashia Hansen settled down in front of the television at her home in Birmingham to watch the action from the World Indoor Championships in Budapest. It did not make the most pleasant of viewing.

One Saturday afternoon in March Ashia Hansen settled down in front of the television at her home in Birmingham to watch the action from the World Indoor Championships in Budapest. It did not make the most pleasant of viewing.

It was bad enough beholding the loss of her global title in absentia. Even worse was the sight of her world indoor record being equalled and then drastically revised not once but twice.

Such was Tatyana Lebed-eva's form that day, Hansen could have been excused for thinking her Olympic dream had been shattered, too. The Russian had, after all, stretched her improbably elastic legs out to distances of 15.25m and 15.36m - well beyond the 15.16m the Briton jumped at the European Indoor Championships in Val-encia in 1998, which remains her farthest, indoors or out.

Then again, half of the battle in the joint-jarring world of triple jumping is being in the physical shape to hop, step and jump - as Hansen knows only too well. Last year, having followed her Commonwealth Games and European Championship triumphs of 2002 with victory at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, the Birchfield Harrier underwent heel surgery and then suffered an Achilles tendon injury.

The world No 1 in 2002, she could only watch as Lebedeva struck gold at the outdoor World Championships in Paris. She returned to competition with an indoor win in Birmingham in February this year but decided to concentrate on getting herself ready for the outdoor Olympic season rather than defend her world indoor title in Budapest.

Four months on, Hansen is preparing to open her summer campaign on the first day of the European Cup in Bydgoszcz, Poland, next Saturday, happy with her fitness and training-track form. "I'm pretty much close to the shape I was in two years ago," she said. "Things have been going well."

As for Lebedeva, she is keeping her hopping and stepping under wraps - for the time being, at least. In Ostrava last Tuesday night the 27-year-old Volgograd woman showed that her jumping is in almost as fine fettle as it was in Budapest, where she followed her triple-jump success by taking gold in the long jump too. She was beaten in the long jump by her compatriot Tatyana Kotova, who won with 7.00m, but took second place ahead of Marion Jones with 6.91m - just 7cm shy of her best.

The rumour at track-side was that Lebedeva was carrying an injury that prevented her from triple jumping, and that she would be concentrating solely on the long jump in Athens. Not so, said her manager, Aivar Karotamm. "Tatyana does have a problem at the moment with her ankle, but it is not a big problem," he said. "She will be triple jumping next month and she will be doing both events at the Olympics: triple jump No 1, long jump No 2."

Hansen had expected to face Lebedeva in Bydgoszcz but, with only domestic events on the Briton's schedule after the European Cup, she is now unlikely to get a first-hand glimpse of the Olympic favourite's form until the gold medal is on the line.

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