Lewis-Francis in no rush to make Sydney squad

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The Independent Online

Mark Lewis-Francis needs to be very careful or he might find himself winning next weekend's 100m at the Olympic Trials. And, as he has made clear more than once this season, his plans do not include doing that event in Sydney.

Mark Lewis-Francis needs to be very careful or he might find himself winning next weekend's 100m at the Olympic Trials. And, as he has made clear more than once this season, his plans do not include doing that event in Sydney.

But if this 17-year-old - he is not 18 until 4 September - continues to perform at the level he did in Saturday's British Grand Prix, where he was the fastest 100m runner of the day with a personal best of 10.10sec, the pressure on him to change his mind is likely to become enormous.

Lewis-Francis had it in mind to win the world junior title in Chile when the championships take place three weeks after the Olympic Games, and he is fast closing on the junior record of 10.06 set by compatriot Dwain Chambers three years ago. But Lewis-Francis is currently running faster than Chambers, who has not yet been able to hit the form which earned him a bronze medal at the World Championships last year.

Lewis-Francis's flourish on Saturday came in the B race; in the main race that followed, Chambers could only manage seventh place in a time of 10.30, and although Darren Campbell performed more creditably by taking third place in 10.20, even the winner - Bruny Surin of Canada - was slower than the young man from West Bromwich, winning in 10.16.

Wise old heads at Lewis-Francis's club, Birchfield Harriers, are counselling him not to risk over-committing himself at too early an age. The unspoken example exists of Ade Mafe, whose career never developed as it should have done after he had reached the 1984 Olympic 200m final aged 17.

"I'm still young and I've got loads of Olympics left ahead of me," Lewis-Francis said with all the blitheness of youth.

God forbid that he should suffer any injuries which prevent that being the case. But there is another unspoken example, an athlete who was coached by the man who currently oversees Lewis-Francis's overall development, Tony Hadley, that also bears upon the situation. Derek Redmond had a 400m career in which injury constantly thwarted his outstanding natural gifts, culminating in his tearful progress over the line at the 1992 Olympics with a ruptured hamstring, assisted by his father.

For Jonathan Edwards, Britain's world triple jump record holder, there remains only one more Olympics at which he can do full justice to his extraordinary talent, having had to settle for a silver in Atlanta four years ago. Edwards, who passed up the opportunity of competing in the European Cup on his home ground of Gateshead last month in order to rediscover form which had dipped alarmingly, returned to meaningful action here and required only two jumps to win with a season's best of 17.34m.

"The way the event looks at the moment if I jump anywhere near my best I'm the best hope we have for a gold medal," he said. "I recognise that. I was the only British athlete ranked No 1 in the world last year. But I'm still only one jump away from being hurt so I have to be very careful.

"When I launched my book last month I was being bullish about my chances, but it wasn't just bluster. So when things didn't happen for me in Rome it was a bit of a shock and my decision to train for a while in Israel was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction.

"I have felt a different person over the last few days. Because several significant things have happened on the spiritual front, whereas a week ago if I had come here and jumped badly it would have been 'off the Tyne Bridge, here we go'."

Paula Radcliffe also signalled her return to Olympic contention after injuries with second place in the 5,000m in a time less than a second outside her national record, while Katharine Merry finished a weary and somewhat downcast third in a 400m race from which Australia's Olympic favourite, Cathy Freeman, had scratched with a hamstring problem.

Other anticipated highlights lived up to their billing. Marion Jones lowered her 100m all-comers record to 10.78, and there were assured victories from Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie at 5,000m and Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj, who won the Emsley Carr Mile in a time of 3min 45.96sec.

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