Athletics: Jones left trailing in Gevaert's wake

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The Independent Online

Marion Jones came all the way to Birmingham to lose her winning streak as a sprinter last night.

The Olympic 100 metres champion, running indoors this season for the first time in her career, suffered her first defeat in 23 races at the Norwich Union Grand Prix when she was beaten into second place by the European indoor champion, Kim Gevaert, who equalled her Belgian record of 7.13sec.

The 28-year-old double Olympic champion from Raleigh, North Carolina, was running only her second race since returning from a 17-month break, during which she had a baby boy named after her partner, Tim Montgomery, the world 100m record-holder.

Two weeks ago, she had made a successful comeback at New York's Millrose Games, winning in 7.21, and despite a pondereous start she improved on that here, recording 7.16.

That was not enough to catch up with the indoor specialist Gevaert, who got away to the best start, but it left her ahead of a powerful field which included the woman who last beat her to win the 2001 world outdoor title, Zhanna Block. The Ukrainian could only finish fifth in a time of 7.32.

"I'm sure I ran better than two weeks ago," Jones said. "I was much happier with my start today but the turnover wasn't there. This is a work in progress. By the time I get to Athens I'll be ready to run."

Christian Malcolm, needing a good run to secure a place in next month's World Indoor Championships, produced it when required to win the 200m in 20.74.

The 1500m saw Britain's Commonwealth champion and European 3,000m indoor bronze medallist, Michael East, establish a personal best of 3min 36.42sec, the third fastest indoor time ever run by a Briton. Only Peter Elliott, with 3:34.20 in 1990, and John Mayock, with 3:36.25 in 2001, have run faster.

But East's efforts were only enough to secure third place in a race that ended with a withering burst around the final 200 metres as Ukraine's Ivan Heshko kicked to win in 3:35.40 ahead of Portugal's former world indoor champion Rui Silva, who finished in 3:35.83. The times were the second and third fastest in the world this year. All competing Britons broke personal bests in the race, with Anthony Whiteman recording 3.37.66.

A first-round effort of 7.91m was enough to earn the world indoor and outdoor champion, Dwight Phillips, victory in the long jump. Although the US athlete, who took the world indoor title on the same runway last March, only managed two scoring jumps out of his four attempts, both were further than any of his rivals could manage, his shorter distance being 7.83.

Britain's Chris Tomlinson, who has still to recapture the form which earned him the British outdoor record of 8.27m two years ago, finished second with an effort of 7.72, while his 19-year-old team-mate, Jonathan Moore, maintaining his steady return to the mainstream after a serious knee injury in 2002, produced an indoor personal best of 7.45 in sixth place.

"I was disappointed to jump 7.72, but it's good to be second because I beat some good guys," Tomlinson said. "Dwight was so far ahead, it shows I've got a bit of work to do. I'm going to the World Indoor Championships next month and hope to jump more than eight metres there and get a medal."

But Tomlinson will be only too aware that earning a gold medal could be a very tall order given Phillips' intention to defend his title in Budapest. "My goal is to win the world indoors, and hopefully the crowd there will bring out good things," Phillips said. "I just want to keep winning."

There was sombre news from the United States concerning the racewalker Albert Heppner, who was found dead in the early hours of Thursday morning after failing to make the US Olympic team last Sunday.

The 29-year-old's body was discovered by team-mates and police officers underneath a 250-foot highway bridge in a mountainous area of San Diego after police had discovered his unoccupied car nearby on the previous evening. Heppner had established a huge lead in the US Olympic trials 50km race in Chula Vista, but had faded in the final 20km and been passed by four other competitors. After the race he required medical attention. "I've never crashed like I did today," he said.

Although Heppner still had a chance to make the US squad at the IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Naumburg, Germany in May, his friends told police he had become "very depressed" after his most recent race. Four years ago, he missed out on a place at the Sydney Olympics after being forced to pull out of the race because of freezing conditions.

"Al was a great athlete and a great advocate for the entire sport of track and field," said Craig Masback, the chief executive of US Track and Field.