Hansen rues 'the day it didn't happen'

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The Independent Online
The experiences of two of Britain's leading field event athletes formed a sad counterpoint to the success of Denise Lewis last night, writes Mike Rowbottom.

Ashia Hansen's hopes of earning her first major triple jump title ended in tears as she could only manage fifth place, having been the leading qualifier. And Steve Smith, the Olympic high jump bronze medallist, failed to qualify for Wednesday's final, limping away with an Achilles tendon injury which has forced him to call a halt to his season.

Hansen, who jumped 14.77 metres in Saturday's qualifying despite carrying a back injury, could only manage 14.49m in a final which saw Sarka Kasparkova, of the Czech Republic, take the gold with a fifth-round effort of 15.20m after Romania's Rodica Mateescu had taken a first-round lead with 15.16m.

It was clear from the start that Hansen, who before she incurred her injury had raised her Commonwealth record to 14.94m, was not in the shape to respond to those kind of distances. What was more galling for was that the distance of the bronze medallist, Yelena Govorova, was 14.67m, less than Hansen managed on Saturday.

After receiving treatment on her back and being comforted by British team management, a tearful Hansen said: "I am bitterly disappointed. I've done my best jump in qualifying and not in the final. This was a day where it didn't happen."

The same was true for Smith, who managed only 2.26m. "I need two to three months off," he said. "I'm going to call it a day and come back next year."

The two track finals of the night provided two surprises. Stephane Diagana, of France, who missed last season with injury, defeated the pre-race favourite Bryan Bronson, of the United States, in a time of 47.70sec.

"It is a great moment for me," Diagana said. "I reserved my power in the opening rounds and it paid off."

While Australia's Cathy Freeman was forecast by many to win an open-looking 400m final, which she did in 49.77, her gesture afterwards, when she took flags representing both Australia and the Australian Aborigines on her lap of honour, may have raised a few eyebrows. Freeman was censured when she did the same thing after her victories at the 1994 Commonwealth Games.

Steve Backley sets out today in pursuit of the global gold which he wants - which, according to him, he needs to round off his achievements in the javelin.

As usual, one of the main problems for Britain's Olympic silver medallist is the Czech Republic's gold medallist, Jan Zelezny, who was the leading qualifier on Sunday night. Zelezny's effort, 83.66m, was far from awe- inspiring, but he gained a slight psychological advantage in qualifying outright with one throw while Backley had to wait for confirmation that his 81.40m was enough.

Mick Hill, who qualified with 82.24, will also be hoping to add a World Championship medal to the bronze he won in 1993.

The lurking danger in the field is the home thrower, Kostas Gatsiouidis, who is likely to attract a large, partisan crowd - something which will please the International Amateur Athletic Federation president, Primo Nebiolo, who has expressed his disapproval of the relatively sparse numbers who witnessed Sunday night's 100m finals.

Meanwhile, Sally Gunnell, Britain's team captain, is looking forward to making her return to a major championship following last summer's traumatic exit from the Olympics in today's 400m hurdles heats. "I am desperate to get going," she said.