Athletics: Pickering powers into European medal form

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The Independent Online

Craig Pickering maintained his impressive momentum ahead of next month's European Indoor Championships yesterday in a 60 metres final that concluded a Norwich Union European trials meeting which threw up a clutch of hugely promising performances.

Pickering, a 20-year-old student at Bath University, is entitled to compete in Birmingham on 2-4 March as favourite for a title that has been won three times by his training partner Jason Gardener, who could only finish seventh yesterday. Pickering downplayed his chances after a time of 6.58 seconds saw him comfortably clear of his 19-year-old training partner Ryan Scott, who also earned European qualification with a personal best of 6.64 in a final for which the former world indoor bronze medallist Mark Lewis-Francis was not even able to qualify.

"I'm not the gold medallist for the European Indoors by any means," said Pickering. "But there was a job that needed to be done today and I've done it. I'm the best in Britain at the moment, but you can't rule out Jason yet."

Gardener has run 6.58 this season and will almost certainly be offered the third sprinting place. But after managing only 6.67 yesterday, he wants to run faster in Saturday's Norwich Union Grand Prix.

Similar doubts persist over another of Britain's outstanding performers in recent years, 35-year-old Ashia Hansen, who has returned to the sport after her horrendous knee injury at the 2004 European Cup. Hansen's winning distance of 13.89 metres in Saturday's triple jump was not close enough to the qualifying mark of 14.10m to offer assurance that she could be competitive in the arena where she won the world indoor title four years ago. She will return to Sheffield on Saturday in the hope of an improvement.

The weekend was highly encouraging for younger athletes such as Mo Farah. The 23-year-old European cross country champion won the 3,000m in 7min 50.86sec and will now seek European Indoor and world cross country medals at either end of March.

A local girl, Jessica Ennis, the 21-year-old who earned a heptathlon bronze behind Commonwealth champion Kelly Sotherton last May, put her older rival under pressure here, beating her in the high jump and the 60m hurdles, where she ran a personal best of 8.18sec. Sotherton also ran a personal best, of 8.19, and the pair look ready to offer the Olympic champion, Sweden's Carolina Kluft, a real challenge.

Nicola Sanders, a 24-year-old from Windsor, Slough and Eton, recorded the world's fastest time this year, 50.60sec, in winning the 400 metres by almost three clear seconds. Things also look good for Nathan Douglas, who produced his second personal best of the season in the triple jump, winning with 17.19m, and Andy Turner, a Commonwealth and European medallist last year, who won the 60m hurdles in a personal-best 7.55sec which put him third on the all-time British list, behind Colin Jackson and Tony Jarrett.

Scott was not the only teenager on the day to make a name for himself. The 18-year-old James Brewer, from Cheltenham, surprised everyone by overhauling Richard Hill in the final 10 metres to win the 800m in 1min 49.03sec, just outside the European qualifying time.

Optimism will not extend, however, to the women's pole vault. Russia's defending champion Yelena Isinbayeva, who will appear in Birmingham on Saturday, yesterday raised her world indoor record to 4.93m.