Jackson calling the shots

Athletics

The domestic outdoor season gets fully underway in Cardiff today as a selection of Britain's great and good respond to the call of the world 110 metres hurdles world record holder, Colin Jackson, who is doubling up as promoter of the Welsh Games on his home track.

Jackson, who is due to run against the reigning Olympic high hurdles champion, Mark McKoy, is banking on a crowd of between 5,000 and 6,000 after calling in several favours from friends in the sport and attracting names such as Linford Christie, who will make his first British outdoor appearance of the season over 150 metres.

Elsewhere in the programme the theme is that of comebacks. Tessa Sanderson, who returned to javelin throwing last weekend after a three-year absence and achieved the Olympic qualifying distance of 60 metres, attempts to improve on that today.

Jon Ridgeon, named like Sanderson in the European Cup team for next weekend, runs in the 400m hurdles as part of his return after four years out with injury, building on his recent run in Turkey in the European Clubs Cup. And Diane Modahl marks her return to big time athletics after being cleared of doping offences by running at 600m.

Jackson's influence has meant he can stage an event which he estimates would normally have cost around pounds 250,000 - nominally an international match between Wales, Ireland and Croatia - to arrange.

"It's a dream come true to put something back into the sport here," Jackson said. "There have been a few headaches along the way, but it has been well worth it."

Modahl yesterday promised to force Britain's selectors to pick her after being overlooked for the European Cup team. The former Commonwealth 800m champion runs the first of three races in five days in Cardiff today and is determined to make her comeback a "magical" one.

Modahl, who finally had her name cleared by the International Amateur Athletic Federation two months ago, heard on Wednesday that the 800m place for Madrid next weekend had gone to the world bronze medallist, Kelly Holmes. "It was disappointing not to be picked for the European Cup," she said. "I want to be part of the British team again. It is one of the aims of coming to terms with what happened to me.

"But it is just another event on the calendar. I'm sure that by the time the mid-season comes around it will be difficult for the selectors not to pick me on my performance."

Modahl, who is still fighting the British Athletic Federation for compensation for her drugs case nightmare, returns to international competition for the first time for nearly two years with 800m races in Hengelo on Monday and Bratislava on Wednesday.

"It will be quite nerve-racking," she said. "But those meetings will give me the chance to rub shoulders again with athletes of the highest calibre.

"It has been difficult returning to the competitive arena. Everything that has happened has come flooding back. The Olympics are a serious goal, but the most important thing for me is to feel comfortable again with athletes, tracks and officials. Once I do that I'm sure that I can start running well. I'm determined to make this comeback a magical experience."

The event also gives an opportunity to Jamie Baulch, who will challenge for one of the Olympic 400m places this season, to show how much he has improved in the last year in front of a home crowd. Meanwhile Sally Gunnell, who did not run last season because of injury, plans to return to 400m hurdling at a meeting in Jena, Germany, today.

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