Hansen takes big jump towards best

World Championships Britain's woman triple-jumper hits peak form to challenge for medal after success in qualifying
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Optimism is something with which Ashia Hansen, who competes in today's World Championship triple jump final having qualified with her best effort in two years, only deals in very cautious measures. Given the events of the last 16 months, that is hardly surprising.

Two months ago, her former boyfriend Chris Cotter was jailed for staging a supposed racist attack on himself outside her house in an apparent attempt to earn her sympathy. Although she had attempted to put the case to the back of her mind in order to seek an Olympic medal last September, her physical resilience was undermined by a foot injury that was belatedly diagnosed as a ruptured tendon and she was operated on in March.

Now, however, she is allowing herself to look forward with hope, if not complete faith, as she contemplates the trauma of recent events from a calmer place. "It's miles behind me – it's past," she said. "And I'm still the old me. I'll never change." A tentative return to the world trials in Birmingham last month saw her win with 14.09 metres, enough to suggest she had something to build on. Her performance in qualifying here with a first effort of 14.51m suggested that the woman who holds the world indoor record of 15.16 was back as a possible medal contender.

That notion was more than enough to alarm her, however. "Oh God – pressure!" she responded. "I'm just going to go out there and enjoy myself. If I come back with a medal, great. If not, I've enjoyed myself." But there was no hiding the sense of satisfaction she felt at having jumped her furthest distance outdoors since the 14.96 she recorded in winning the 1999 Grand Prix final.

"I don't think I'm fully back to form but it's great to be jumping well again," she said. "It's been well missed. From 14.09 to 14.50 is a huge step, but now I've done it.

"The aim is always to qualify with your first jump. Sometimes it doesn't work out that way, but this time it did. And hopefully there's more to come, but we'll see.

"I had no problems with the foot, but I was so nervous out there because it was my first major since the Olympics. I went just in time before my legs went. That's something experience tells you." Her resolution was strengthened by the performance of Jonathan Edwards in winning Britain's first gold in Saturday's triple jump competition.

"Jonathan winning was absolutely amazing," she said. "The only bad thing was not seeing it live. A group of us followed it on the internet at the team hotel." Now she finds herself as fifth-highest qualifier in a final where Bulgaria's Olympic champion, Tereza Marinova, who recorded 14.89, stands as favourite. "I think to get a medal in the final will need well over 15 metres – or maybe 14.90. I can certainly try and do that – I'm not going to go out there and not try."

Chris Rawlinson, who won his 400m hurdles semi-final in 48.27sec – his third fastest ever – goes into today's final knowing that, like Hansen, he will need to raise his game still further to earn tangible reward.

"I think I'm going to have to break the British record to get a medal," he said. "But I think it's going to be anybody's race." In the absence of the Olympic champion, Angelo Taylor, who failed to qualify after catching his foot on the final hurdle, the favourite to take gold is now the US-based Dominican Republic hurdler Felix Sanchez, the winner of last month's Crystal Palace Grand Prix, who won his semi-final in 48.07.

After Rawlinson's disappointments of the past two years, when he injured himself before the last World Championships and then failed to reach the Sydney Olympic final, the 29-year-old Rotherham athlete is keen to make up for lost time.

He wasted no time in qualifying in a race that he found unexpectedly easy.

"I didn't expect to run that quickly," he said. "It was a good sign." Kriss Akabusi's British record of 47.82sec, set in winning Olympic bronze in 1992, could be under threat.