Holmes steps into the breach

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Kelly Holmes last night gave the organisers of the KP Grand Prix here just the kind of lift they were looking for as she accelerated over the final 100 metres to beat a world-class field in the 800 metres and confirm her status as one of Britain's best hopes at next month's World Championships.

It looked as if Holmes, the Commonwealth 1500m champion, was going to lose her first race of the season as the field was led into the final bend by Regina Jacobs, of the United States, and Letitia Vriesde, the world's fastest this year. But the army sergeant, haring down in an outside line, passed them all to win in 1min 58.77sec.

It was a positive image for the sport on a day when image was of crucial importance. Linford Christie, Colin Jackson and John Regis, signed up to run in the next three British televised races but not in time to appear here, were all present last night in a PR capacity.

Christie indulged in a little light-hearted muscle rippling in front of the main stand soon after the 100m race in which he might have run had finished, with Donovan Bailey given as the winner in 10.16.

Regis's next race will be in the 100m at the Welsh Games in Cwmbran tomorrow, where Jackson is already confirmed as an entrant in the 110m hurdles. Christie's next race is likely to be in midweek in Nice, before all three line up in the AAA Championships and world championship trials next weekend.

In the wake of the pay dispute between the British Athletic Federation and these three leading athletes, which was settled only on the day before the meeting, the crowd was well below the capacity of 17,000, with 12,500 tickets reported sold. The warm weather may have attracted a number of latecomers - who, if they had not arrived promptly, would have missed some of the more significant of the night's action.

Roger Black, two days after equalling his nine-year-old personal best of 44.59 in Lausanne, ran a similarly committed race against top-class opposition, accelerating over the third 100 metres to enter the straight ahead of Darnell Hall, of the United States, and the Olympic bronze medallist, Samson Kitur of Kenya. But Hall, just as he had in Lausanne, proved the stronger to win in 44.94, with Black second in 45.16.

In the 400m hurdles, Derek Adkins won from Danny Harris, back in the sport after his recovery from cocaine addiction, in 47.74, which bettered the All-Comers' record of the great Ed Moses.

The winner of the 3,000m steeplechase, Patrick Sang, became the first recipient of the prize and bonus structure which had been introduced to a British meeting for the first time. Sang outsprinted his Kenyan compatriot, Gideon Chirchir, in the final 50 metres to record 8:08.11, the third fastest time in the world this year and a British All-Comers' record.

That earned him $4,000 (pounds 2,500) as the winner, and a $3,000 bonus, working on the basis of $1,000 for every two-second band under 8min 16sec. It was the shape of things to come in Britain. Sang, an Olympic and world silver medallist, did not look unduly impressed.

The 1500m brought together Moses Kiptanui, of Kenya, the world 5,000m record holder, and Venuste Niyongabo, of Burundi, the man most likely to take over the position currently occupied in middle distance running by the all-conquering Algerian, Noureddine Morceli.

Niyongabo lived up to his billing, coming home first in 3:33.30, the second fastest time in the world this year - behind Morceli, of course. In the race itself, Steve Holman, of the United States, appeared as the greatest threat to the Burundi athlete, but ended up with second in a personal best of 3:33.41

Two British runners benefited from the quality of the field - John Mayock, who finished fourth in a personal best of 3:34.58, and Gary Lough, who set a Northern Ireland record of 3:34.82 just behind him.

Matthew Yates might have benefited even more, but sadly had to withdraw before the race. That piece of bad news was added to when Ashia Hansen was forced to pull out in the course of the triple jump competition.

The international standard of the early events was unquestionable, but the question remained: why were they staged so early? As Black remarked, ruefully, to the on-course commentator after his early run: "There were still a lot of people coming in, which was rather a shame."

Jokingly asked if he might run again later, he replied: "Give me about an hour."

Results, Sporting Digest, page 27