Athletics: Meadows' natural speed to smooth step up in class

Britain's 800m novice races two of the world's greatest talents in Birmingham on Sunday
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The Independent Online

Jenny Meadows has run seven races so far in the indoor season. She has yet to lose one. "It would be nice if I did win again," she said, looking ahead to the 800 metres in the Norwich Union Grand Prix meeting at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham on Sunday, "and got the world record with it". The young Wigan woman was not so much musing as dreaming, her tongue very much in cheek. Meadows might be one of the emerging British track and field talents of the 2002 indoor season, but Sunday's race will be her first on the world-class stage as a senior athlete. She could hardly face a more daunting baptism.

It was only after winning the AAA indoor title in Cardiff a fortnight ago that Meadows decided to commit herself to a step up in distance from 400m – the event in which she forged her reputation as a member of the British relay team that struck gold in the World Junior Championships two years ago. And now she finds herself up against the two world heavyweights of the women's 800m: Steffi Graf and Maria Mutola.

It promises to be a memorable occasion for the 20-year-old half-miling novice, with Graf planning to attack the world indoor record set by the East German Christine Wachtel 14 years ago, 1min 56.40sec. Graf, who clocked 1:56.86 in Ghent last Sunday, wants the record before she defends the European indoor title on home ground in Vienna in a fortnight's time.

Meadows just wants to be in the 800m in the Austrian capital. To get there, she needs to beat 2:04.00 on Sunday – a target that appears to be well within her grasp, judging by the 2:04.34 she recorded with ease in the heats in Cardiff.

"I know that I won't be able to hold on to the leaders on Sunday," Meadows said. "But if I can keep with them for one or two laps, and then just dig in at my own sort of pace, I know that I should be able to get that 2:04. Realistically, I'm looking for a 2:02 or a 2:03." It says much for the talent Meadows has brought to the 800m that she is talking in terms of such times.

Kirsty Wade, the Commonwealth champion of 1982 and 1986, had a best indoor 800m time of 2:02.2. Yet neither she nor Kelly Holmes, who succeeded her as British record holder outdoors, were blessed with the natural speed that Meadows happens to possess – 23.5sec for 200m, as clocked in a relay in Cardiff last weekend, and 53.25sec for 400m, a qualifying time that has given her an insurance ticket for Vienna.

As tickets went on sale yesterday for the 2003 World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, Meadows was studying for her English and PE finals at Liverpool Hope University. At the National Indoor Arena on Sunday, the new girl in the 800m class will be looking to provide British athletics with hope for next year and way beyond.

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