Heat is on for Edwards

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The Independent Online
Athletics

You know that all the warnings about the heat and humidity in Atlanta need to be taken seriously during the Olympics when one of Kenya's top distance runners complains that it is too hot.

The two lessons for the Olympic Games that should have been taken from the Atlanta Grand Prix staged to celebrate the opening of the Centennial Olympic Stadium on Saturday are to respect the conditions and to expect problems.

With temperatures in the stadium reaching 112F, Jonathan Edwards discovered the full perils of Atlanta's heat. Out in the broiling sun for nearly two hours for his first triple jump of Olympic year, a bout of cramp brought on by dehydration forced Britain's only world champion to miss three of his allotted six jumps.

"I suppose I should have drunk more fluids," Edwards said. Perhaps most worrying for Britain's other Olympic hopefuls is that Edwards came into Saturday's meeting well prepared for the climate, having spent 10 weeks training in Florida. When the British team goes to the same training camp before the Games, the average duration of their acclimatisation stay will be just 10 days.

At least Edwards managed to win, his 17.59m second-round effort was enough to see off the challenge of Yoel Garcia and Mike Conley. Yet after his peerless 1995, there was a sense that Edwards felt vulnerable, uncertain whether he could ever recapture his record breaking form of last year. He looked tentative on the runway, missing the fluency of jumping which so emphatically won him the world title in Gothenburg last August.

Edwards must be encouraged, therefore, that his rivals failed to take advantage. "I was surprised no one jumped further," he said. "After the third round, I just sat there and hoped that no one would pass me."

The tortuous 45-minute bus journey Edwards had to endure to the stadium, the long distance between the warm-up track and the Olympic stadium, the inexperienced officials, and the gridlocked Atlanta traffic will all be factors affecting performance when the curtain goes up in two months' time. The hope must be that organisational errors experienced on Saturday were no more than first night nerves.

Everyone was flagging under the record temperatures. Marie-Jose Perec, winner of the women's 400m, collapsed after her race, pleading for water. "The sun was too hot," Paul Bitok, the Kenyan who won the 3,000m, said. "It will be hotter in July," said Dr Jim Ellis, the stadium medical officer.

Even the great Michael Johnson could be a victim of the heat of Georgia. On Saturday Johnson was given as hard a race over 200m as he has had to face in two years, only overtaking Mike Marsh in the final 40 metres as both men broke 20 seconds.

The organisers have changed the Olympic timetable to accommodate Johnson's ambitions of a 200m and 400m double but, even after the scheduled changes, in the Olympic 200m final Johnson will feel the effects of four gruelling 400m races and will be running his fourth 200m in the space of 30 hours. Against Marsh and Frankie Fredericks even the slightest hint of dehydration could spell disaster for Johnson.

One thing is clear from Saturday's meeting, the hard new surface of the Centennial Stadium track could produce a glut of records in Olympic sprint events. "It's probably the fastest track in the world," Allen Johnson, runner-up in the 110m hurdles, said. With four men inside 10 seconds in Saturday's 100 metres, including Carl Lewis running his fastest time for five years, there can be little doubt even now that the Olympics will again provide the greatest show on earth.

Results, Digest, page 19

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