Hough can steal thunder as established names feel pressure

Sheffield prepares to hail the conquering heroes of Munich tomorrow in the Securicor Games - the flagship grand prix meeting of Britain's slimmed-down domestic programme.

Linford Christie, Roger Black, Steve Backley, Jonathan Edwards, Sally Gunnell, Kelly Holmes - they will all be there. But expect the warmest welcome to go to Sheffield's own Robert Hough.

The 24-year-old's unexpected win in the steeplechase last weekend turned European Cup victory from a possibility to a probability. If his late surge shocked Italy's Olympic bronze medallist, Alessandro Lambruschini, it also left the former Sheffield University German student stunned.

He is bound to receive a big reception in the stadium where he normally trains. Hough's target tomorrow is different, as he is taking part in an Emsley Carr Mile, which includes his European Cup colleagues John Mayock and Anthony Whiteman, as well as Burundi's Olympic 5,000 metres champion, Venuste Niyongabo. It is exalted company for Hough, but he has already run 3min 39.1sec for 1500m this season.

Hough's return is part of the first "live" event under the British Athletic Federation's four-year deal with Channel 4, who are seeking to broaden the popularity of the sport by supplementing their coverage with regular magazine programmes.

There will, however, be competition tomorrow on another channel - BBC1's EastEnders features the long-awaited foot race between Nigel and Grant.

The withdrawal from the 400m of Michael Johnson has deprived Roger Black, second behind the American in last summer's Olympic 400m final, the chance of a return meeting.

Black, however, will be hard pushed to defeat a field that includes his three colleagues in the silver-medal winning relay team in Atlanta, Iwan Thomas, Jamie Baulch and Mark Richardson. The latter looks the man most likely to challenge Black's No 1 position, having run 44.91sec to win this month's Helsinki grand prix.

Negotiations are already underway to bring Johnson to Britain later this season at either Crystal Palace or Gateshead.

Kelly Holmes, who faces a 1500m field which includes Ireland's world 5,000m champion, Sonia O'Sullivan, has quit the Army to concentrate on athletics. Now 27, Holmes has been in the Army since she was 17, reaching the rank of sergeant.

"I've enjoyed my Army career for nine years but I don't feel I have reached my potential in athletics," she said. "To do that I need to fully focus on it, not 80 or 90 per cent of the time but 100 per cent."

Christie's 150m race against Donovan Bailey will also include Ian Mackie and John Regis, who holds the British record for the event at 14.97.

Gunnell, who regained the feeling of victory in Munich, faces a challenge of a different order in her 400m hurdles as she takes on Tonia Buford- Bailey and the Olympic champion, Deon Hemmings, both of whom have run faster than her.

The 110m hurdles should be one of the most closely contested events, with Anier Garcia, the Cuban who beat Colin Jackson to the world indoor title this year, facing both Jackson and Tony Jarrett, both of whom are in promising shape.

In the triple jump, Edwards faces the man who denied him an Olympic title last summer to add to his world title, Kenny Harrison, of the United States. Denis Kapustin, of Russia, whom Edwards defeated in the European Cup, is also in the field.

Dawn Fraser, who stepped into the European Cup 400m at short notice and finished second in a personal best, returns to the 200m in a race that takes her into exalted company. Her competitors include America's world 100m champion, Gwen Torrence and the Commonwealth champion, Cathy Freeman.

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