Ennis's pursuit of Kluft crown gets personal

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The Independent Online

If consistency is the key to success, Jessica Ennis is surely due a tangible reward at this summer's Olympics. While the woman who has dominated heptathlon in the last seven years, Carolina Kluft, deliberates over defending her title at the Beijing Games, the 22-year-old who finished fourth behind the Swede at last year's World Championships continues to make up ground. There were four more personal best performances from Ennis in Saturday's Norwich Union International here, which edged her a little closer to the Olympic podium.

Ennis is not taking any notice of the noises emanating from Kluft right now. "Even though Carolina has said that she might not compete in the heptathlon in Beijing, I am going to focus my mind on her being there," said the Sheffield University graduate after equalling her 60-metre hurdles best of 8.18sec and setting successive indoor long jump personal bests of 6.21m, 6.30m and 6.33m.

"If she doesn't do it, it will change the whole perspective of the event as she's one of the greatest of all time," added Ennis, who will miss the World Indoor Championships in March in order to concentrate on her Olympic preparation. "But I am not sure it means I can start thinking about gold. There are a lot of good athletes out there and gold is probably a bit too far out of my reach."

Unlike Ennis, Craig Pickering does plan to do the world indoors, although he needed to convince his coach, Malcolm Arnold, about the feasibility of combining indoor and Olympic ambitions this year.

The 21-year-old Bath University student opened his indoor season with a conclusive victory over 60m in 6.57sec, pulling clear of the athlete who beat him to the European Under-23 100m title last July, Simeon Williamson.

Arnold was pleased enough with his boy's progress after seeing him fret during preparation over the fact that his 19-year-old training partner Ryan Scott – third in 6.69 behind Williamson's 6.65 – had already got into his racing this year while Pickering was occupied with exams.

"Craig had been very anxious about having to wait, because Ryan has had three races already," Arnold said. "He worries himself to death, but he'll feel a lot better now."

The coach was correct. "You never know how things are going to go until you get to race," said Pickering. "This victory means I can be a lot more relaxed about things. There is more to come from me."

Ennis's assured performances and Pickering's victory were the highlights in a generally encouraging British performance as additional wins from Richard Buck (400m), Chris Tomlinson (long jump), Jeanette Kwakye (60m), Jenny Meadows (800m), Katrina Wooton (3,000m) and Lisa Dobriskey (1500m) enabled them to win this five-way match against the United States, Sweden, Germany and a Commonwealth Select team by one point.

Victory had appeared less than likely early in the meeting when Allan Scott, who had set a world season's best in the 60m hurdles of 7.52sec on the same track two weeks earlier, missed scoring any points after being disqualified for two false starts. The over-eager Scot will have an early chance to make amends as he runs in Stuttgart on Saturday. Pickering also plans to race there.

There was further good news for UK Athletics yesterday as Mara Yamauchi won the Osaka International Marathon in 2hr 25min 10sec, three seconds inside her previous best.

The 34-year-old, who is based in Tokyo with her Japanese husband, is aiming to join Paula Radcliffe in Britain's Olympic marathon team this year. "I made a mess of things last year" said Yamauchi, who finished ninth at the Osaka World Championships after trying to break away in mid race . "I was determined to be stronger this time."

Meseret Defar, Ethiopia's world two-mile record holder, has set a new indoor mark at the Reebok Boston Indoor Games with a time of 9min 10.50sec, beat the record of 9.23.38 set by the US runner Regina Jacobs in 2002.

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