Athletics: Mason leaps into a new world

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The Independent Online

International athletics returns to the spotlight in front of the terrestrial television cameras on Saturday with the staging of the Visit Scotland Great Edinburgh Cross Country meeting at Holyrood Park. The centre of attention will be Kenenisa Bekele, the peerless Ethiopian who at 23 has already amassed a collection of eight world cross-country championship gold medals. Earlier in the week, though, the focus of athletics attention in Britain will be on Germaine Mason - not so much a cross-country runner as jumper.

On Monday and Tuesday, the 22-year-old will be at the offices of UK Athletics on the outskirts of Birmingham to finalise details of his assimilation as a British athlete. One of the world's leading young high jumpers, Mason has already agreed to transfer his international allegiance from Jamaica to Great Britain.

He was born in Kingston - in the Caribbean, not by the Thames - but has dual nationality courtesy of his father, David, a native Londoner. Though his father has settled in Jamaica, his mother, Carol, has lived in Acton, west London, with his three brothers since 1988.

Before Christmas Mason was provisionally selected for UK Athletics' World Class Performance Programme - one of 38 élite athletes chosen for National Lottery funding - and his credentials are impressive. In 2003 he was ranked No 3 in the world, and in the spring of 2004 he won a bronze medal at the World Indoor Championships in Buda-pest. He also boasts a personal best of 2.34 metres, just 3cm shy of Steve Smith's 13-year-old British record.

The details of Mason's new life as a British athlete are yet to be confirmed, though he is expected to adopt a similar approach to that of Malachi Davis, the Californian 400m runner who joined the British team, courtesy of a London-born mother, in the summer of 2004. Mason is likely to base himself in England for the summer track season but spend the rest of the year training in the United States, having moved to Austin, Texas, to work under the direction of Sue Humphrey, who guided Charles Austin to Olympic gold in Atlanta in 1996. He was formerly coached by Stephen Francis, the man who made Asafa Powell the fastest athlete in history. The pair split after Mason suffered a serious injury to his right knee while jumping to world indoor gold in Budapest in March 2004 and Francis complained about the amount of attention he was demanding in his attempts to regain fitness. "Germaine was asking for 60 per cent of my time, but I wish him all the best," Francis said.

Mason missed the Athens Olympics but returned to competition last summer, jumping 2.27m at the Golden League meeting in Rome. It equalled the best performance of the year by a Britain's No 1 high jumper, Ben Challenger, but Mason declined selection for the World Championships in Helsinki in August because he felt he was "not at championship level" and because, he said, he "didn't want to embarrass myself or the Jamaican team".

Still short of full form and fitness, the British new boy is expected to concentrate on getting himself into medal-challenging shape for the Euro-pean Championships in Gothen-burg in August rather than compete in his adopted country in the indoor season.