Hansen improving with every hop, step and jump

Following Jonathan Edwards' prodigious leap, Mike Rowbottom meets another British triple jumper breaking new ground
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The Independent Online
Jonathan Edwards' inspired performance was not the only unprecedented triple-jumping at last weekend's European Cup. A day earlier, with her fifth national record in the space of nine months, Ashia Hansen became the first British woman to win a major international title in the event.

Suddenly, extraordinarily, British triple-jumping is looking like a major growth area. As well as Edwards - who would be the new world record holder but for the unwanted wind assistance he got in Lille - Britain has a Commonwealth champion in Julian Golley and a world junior champion in Larry Achike. As well as Hansen, there is Michelle Griffith, the first British woman to beat 14 metres, and Rachel Kirby.

Wind was not the only assistance Edwards received on Sunday - help of a more practical kind was offered by Hansen, who was standing level with the take-off board to advise him on his run-ups. It was another manifestation of the team spirit which the event tends to generate.

It also offered Hansen a close-up view of a British triple-jumper socking it to the rest of the world. She has a way to go before she finds herself in the same position - but she is working on it. And at 23, she has time on her side in an event where many of the best practitioners are near to or in their thirties.

Hansen, who was born in Evansville, Indiana, and spent six years in Ghana before coming to this country with her adoptive parents, has taken a similarly roundabout route to the triple jump. She started as a middle-distance runner, tried sprinting, moved on to the high jump and then the long jump before settling on her present discipline. "Basically, I took it up as a laugh," she said.

For all that, there was little fun and laughter in her approach by the time Frank Attoh, a former British international triple jumper, arrived on the scene in October 1993.

"She had had some personal problems, and she was basically scared of the other girls," Attoh said. "She was giving in before she even went out and jumped. I said to her that if she wanted to get to the top she had to leave that kind of attitude behind.

"I could see that there was something about her, even though her technique was not all there. She was an outstanding natural talent."

Hansen took a little convincing. "When Frank first said I was capable of jumping 14 metres I didn't believe him - 13.20 was my best at the time," she said.

But she has now established herself as the British and Commonwealth No 1, taking her outdoor record to 14.37m in Lille, which lifts her to within a place of the world's top 10 performers.

Hansen's improvement has been cumulative, but if there was one competition which helped convince her that she belonged in the front rank of her event it was the indoor KP Classic at Birmingham on 25 February when she finished just five centimetres behind the Russian world record holder, Anna Biryukova, in a British record of 14.29.

"I think Biryukova was having a bad day," Hansen said. "But to come so close to her made me think I can close the gap." The huge jump she produced in the fourth round there, annulled because she had her toe narrowly over the line, also hinted at improvements to come.

Hansen is now a full-time athlete, having given up her job as an invoice clerk for a haulage company in Rainham, Essex. Triple-jumping does not exactly generate a fortune, but she is getting by with a little help from family, friends and the sponsors she picked up after her first British record, Asics and Lucozade.

This Sunday at Gateshead's Bupa Games Hansen faces Maria Sokova, one of six Russians in the top 10 this year. Sokova's 1995 best of 14.54 is just the level of jumping to which Hansen now aspires - one step further on.