Gunnell gains heart

Disqualification fails to remove shine from impressive 400m performance
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The Independent Online
AMID the abundance of potential Olympic medal winners that decorated yesterday's Ricoh tour indoor athletics event here, searching for one from Britain could have been an unrewarding diversion. But Sally Gunnell, despite being disqualified, ran a 400 metres flat of such quality that her Olympic horizons suddenly widened, while Tony Jarrett was mightily impressive in the 60m hurdles and Ashia Hansen added to Britain's prestige in the triple jump event.

Although Gunnell, Jarrett and Hanson's performances were warming, the highlight of the meeting was Maria Mutola's world 1,000m record of two minutes 32.08 seconds. This extraordinary athlete from Mozambique, three times a world champion and only denied another world title last summer in Gothenburg because she ran out of lane, led almost from the start and by the finish was a superior 15 metres ahead of the field.

Gunnell is still a long way from being fully capable of retaining her Olympic 400m hurdles title but equally there is a long way to go before she needs to think seriously about whether all of her efforts to overcome the injuries that destroyed her 1995 season are to be rewarded. If she does reach the final in Atlanta she will almost certainly find that Sandra Farmer-Patrick, her runner-up at the 1992 Olympics and the 1993 World Championships, and Dion Hemmings, of Jamaica, the bronze medal winner at last summer's World Championships will be there to make her defence uncomfortable.

To lead Farmer-Patrick, Hemmings and Juliette Campbell, of Jamaica, until coming off the final bend yesterday and then apparently only losing in a blanket finish following a magnificent race suggested that Gunnell was probably further advanced in her preparations than even she had thought. As the four women crossed the line almost abreast, Gunnell was only half a pace behind Hemmings, the official winner, and the fact that she and Farmer-Patrick were disqualified for running out of lane was irrelevant to the promise of the performance.

Gunnell said that her first ever disqualification hardly mattered since she had come close to 53 seconds. "The important thing was that I wanted to get up and have a go and be ahead early in the race. I got the bruises to prove I did it but I feel fine and the injuries didn't bother me at all. I want to get under 53 seconds soon." Her next attempt is in Moscow on Wednesday.

Hansen's potential in the triple jump was emphasised when she broke her own Commonwealth and national record with an impressive victory in 14.58m. While several other British performances also raised hopes that this Olympic season may bring more success than seemed likely, optimism that depth in the men's 400m would automatically guarantee a good measure of medal potential was not maintained. Du'aine Ladejo, who suffered season- long injuries in 1995, and the 19-year-old prospect Mark Hylton had to settle for third and fourth places behind the experienced Americans Darnell Hall and Derek Mills.

In the absence of Linford Christie, whose groin strain suffered on the Birmingham track a week previously will keep him out of indoor competition for the rest of the season, Jason Gardener and Darren Braithwaite had hoped to continue their good early season form. As it was they could finish only third and fifth respectively in the 60m behind Davidson Ezinwa, of Nigeria, with Michael Rosswess fourth. Geir Moen, the Norwegian European 200m champion was only seventh. But Moen won the 200m beating John Regis who looked slightly sharper than he did last season.