Athletics: Sprinters have point to prove to Jackson

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British Sprinting, criticised this week by the former athlete Colin Jackson, will still provide most of the excitement at the Olympic Trials and AAA Championships which start in Manchester today.

British Sprinting, criticised this week by the former athlete Colin Jackson, will still provide most of the excitement at the Olympic Trials and AAA Championships which start in Manchester today.

The two-day event concludes with a 200 metres race which could involve six top class contenders, including the European Cup winner Christian Malcolm, the world indoor champion Marlon Devonish, the former Commonwealth Games champion Julian Golding, and the Olympic silver medallist Darren Campbell.

Last year in Birmingham, this event provided the surprise of the weekend as Golding, who had been out of the running for almost three years with a succession of injuries, returned to form with a victory in 20.37sec.

Although Golding heads this year's UK rankings with 20.41sec, the man in form is Chris Lambert, who finished second in the 200m at the 2002 Commonwealth Games trials. The former European under-23 champion has yet to translate his talent to a big performance at a major championships, but that could be about to change.

Jackson's assertion, in his new capacity as a member of the BBC TV commentary team, that British male sprinters have no chance of medals, is just the kind of thing which is likely to induce someone to prove him wrong. (Perhaps he expects no less.)

With Dwain Chambers serving a two-year doping ban and out of the Olympics for life, the onus to perform falls upon Campbell, who will attempt to double up at 100 and 200m as he has over the last eight years, and Mark Lewis-Francis, the 21-year-old who has struggled to regain the form he showed in emerging four years ago. The latter sprinter has run 10.17sec this season, albeit in a race which was held outside normal starting conditions and required five false starts before getting underway. Lewis-Francis's talent has never been in question. What he needs to do is settle into some kind of consistency, and he will be anxious to put behind him the memory of his false start in the European Cup.

Another sprinter under pressure will be the world indoor champion, Jason Gardener, who has failed to register convincing outdoor form after returning from the hernia operation he needed after his 60m win in Budapest. Scotsman Nick Smith, who has produced several good performances this season without achieving the Olympic A qualifying mark of 10.21sec, must also make an impact.

Elsewhere in a programme that will take place on the £3.5m Sportcity Regional Arena developed around the warm-up track used at the Commonwealth Games, there will be interest in the men's long jump, where Chris Tomlinson must beat the Commonwealth champion, Nathan Morgan, to further his claim to an Olympic place. Tomlinson has not gained the Olympic A qualifying distance of 8.19 metres, something Morgan has from last season.

The women's long jump, too, will be an edgy affair involving two keen rivals - the European and Commonwealth silver medallist Jade Johnson, and the heptathlete Kelly Sotherton, both of whom are seeking the A qualifying standard of 6.70m.

In the women's 400m, Scotland's Lee McConnell, who returned to the top of this season's UK rankings this week with a 50.87sec in Padua, will face opposition from Donna Fraser, fourth in the last Olympics, who has run 51.11sec this season after three seasons wrecked by a foot injury. Helen Karagounis, Catherine Murphy and the 20-year-old Newham and Essex Beagle Christine Ohuruogu, who recently took two seconds off her personal best with 52.20sec, should ensure a high standard.

Denise Lewis will measure her progress in several elements of the heptathlon, where she will be defending champion in Athens. Lewis, who has a foot injury, has entered the shot, javelin, long jump and 100m hurdles. "I have taken a layered approach to my Athens build up, starting the season off mainly on my throws and then building in the jumps and track events," she said. While her throwing looked in good order at Loughborough last month, the running and jumping still needs attention.

Michael East, who recently knocked three seconds off his 1500m best, will double up in Manchester, running the 800 and 1500m with a view to doing both in Athens.

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