Heats treatment for Edwards

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JONATHAN EDWARDS had swapped the sprint strip at the centre of the National Indoor Arena for the fast lane of the M1 by the time Britain's speed merchants got down to the serious business of chasing in Linford Christie's golden shadow at the AAA Indoor Championships yesterday. The triple jump world-record holder intended to be among them, albeit principally to hone his runway speed. But he failed to make it to the final of the 60m. His allotted lane remained conspicuously empty when the qualifiers for the first semi-final were called to their marks. "I'm going home to bed," Edwards said, his kitbag already packed. "I wish I didn't have to drive four hours to get to it."

Edwards will not be making the return trip from Newcastle this morning to contest his specialist event. "I've got some sort of virus," he revealed. "I didn't feel right in the heats." That was not apparent to the aficionados in attendance as Edwards secured his semi-final place, clocking 6.81 secs as runner-up to Josephus Thomas of Woodford Green. With triple jump gold beckoning at the European Indoor Championships in Valencia at the end of the month, the Gateshead Harrier chose the discretion of withdrawal as the better part of valour.

"I could probably still compete in the triple jump tomorrow and do something like 16.80m," he added. "But that wouldn't prove anything. I've informed the selectors about the situation. I'll be seeing my doctor on Monday." The most pressing concern for the former triple jump world champion will be to recover in time to take his place at the BUPA Games at the National Indoor Arena a week today. The British team for the European Indoor Championships is due to be selected the following day and Edwards' place in it is certain to be rubber-stamped.

In the absence of the ailing Edwards, Darren Braithwaite got off to a flying start in the race for Christie's mantle as Britain's and Europe's fastest man. He did so in what looked like the literal sense, too. The other seven finalists were left on their blocks as the Haringey athlete leapt forward and maintained what proved to be a winning lead, though only just. Braithwaite crossed the line in 6.57 secs, 0.01secs ahead of Dwain Chambers, the teenage prodigy who scorched to a world junior 100m record, 10.06 secs, last summer.

Jason Gardener, who took bronze in 6.61 secs, lodged an official protest, outraged that the blocks had not been wired to detect false starts electronically. "It's pretty disgusting for a national championship," he said. Chambers was more sanguine: "That's the way it goes." And Braithwaite was not in the mood to complain. "I would call it the perfect start for me," he said, savouring his first national indoor title at the age of 29.

Braithwaite, who first utilised his speed in the Leyton Orient youth football team, has been nurtured by Mike McFarlane, the European indoor 60m champion of 1985, but also trains with the group of sprinters being guided by Christie. "Am I sorry that Linford's gone?" he said. "I couldn't wait for him to go." The same sentiment has probably been echoing across the continent since Christie finally hung up his spikes. He has dominated European sprinting for so long few people can remember the last European 100m champion. It was, in fact, Frank Emmelmann of the former East Germany, who won the title in Athens 16 years ago. This summer, in Budapest, a successor to Christie will be crowned.

A new challenger for senior honours emerged yesterday: The Belgrave Harrier Ben Challenger. The 19-year-old was an impressive talent at junior level, having returned from the world and European championships in the past two years with silver and bronze respectively. Yesterday, he announced his arrival in the senior ranks by striking gold. He did so in sparkling fashion, too, clearing 2.27m to set a UK indoor age record.

Tony Jarrett, another member of the Christie stable, was an unchallenged winner of the 60m hurdles final in 7.59 secs and the Liverpool Harrier Diane Allahgreen wrested the women's title from the multi-talented Denise Lewis, by 8.21 secs to 8.40. The most impressive track win, though, came in the second semi-final of the men's 400m. Solomon Wariso, famed for edging Christie out of the AAA Championship 200m final in 1993 and for the three-month drugs ban he received the following year, clocked 46.76 secs in one of his first serious attempts at the longer distance. Found guilty of taking pseudoephedrine four years ago, the writer- cum-sprinter has clearly benefited from three months training with an Innocent in California: the Commonwealth 400m record holder, Innocent Egbunike, that is.