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Injury-free Jackson kicks off season

Colin Jackson takes his first competitive steps of the season in the Birmingham Games today as he seeks to regain his position as the world's best high-hurdler.

Britain's world record holder, 30 next month, has been eclipsed in the last two years by the American Allen Johnson who has taken the world and Olympic titles.

In contrast to last season, when he was troubled with a knee injury, Jackson is fully fit after a trouble-free period of winter training in Australia. He is looking forward to a full indoor season - including the world indoor championships in Paris in March - as part of his preparation for this year's world outdoor championships in Athens.

Jackson opens his year in the 60 metres flat, the event at which he became European indoor champion in 1994. Among his opponents will be the 1992 European indoor champion, Jason Livingston, who is continuing his comeback after returning at the end of summer from a four-year drug ban.

"Colin knows that '97 should be a year of re-establishing himself," said Britain's coaching chief Malcolm Arnold, who has guided Jackson's career. "He is certainly highly motivated by it. And, importantly, he has been training in Australia without any problems."

In Belfast, the Coca-Cola International Cross-country provides another of Britain's Olympians, Paula Radcliffe, with a further opportunity to measure her fitness after she returned from a knee injury to finish third in last Saturday's race at Durham. The women's field, which contains all the main contenders from Durham, including the winner, Ethiopia's world champion Gete Wami, will be strengthened by the presence of Romania's European cross-country champion, Iulia Negura.

The race, which forms the third round of the IAAF World Cross Challenge, offers the Belfast organisers the chance to convince the international body that the city remains the right choice to host the 1999 World Cross- country Championships.

Having secured the event last year, Belfast has seen its position threatened in recent months by the breakdown of the peace process. "We are keeping our fingers crossed," said Brian Hill, of the 1999 organising committee.

The IAAF president, Primo Nebiolo, said last month that as far as he was concerned Belfast was still the choice. But IAAF sources have confirmed that other potential locations have been discussed.

The men's race, despite lacking the Durham winner, Jon Brown, sees other leading Britons in Paul Evans and Andrew Pearson facing James Kariuki and Christopher Kelong of Kenya.