Jackson hits the heights in sleek style : Athletics

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The Independent Online
Britain's athletics standing, bruised by drugs accusations, should at least be improved on the track this year by its profusion of sprinters. In yesterday's first international indoor match of the season, against Russia at the National Indoor Aren a here, both Colin Jackson and John Regis set times that were the fastest in the world this year, and helped the men win 72-64.

Jackson, now unbeaten in 42 hurdles races indoors and out, looked sleek and confident as he won both the 60 metres hurdles and 60m flat races. His finishing speed over the hurdles for a time of 7.43sec easily beat the Commonwealth Games silver medal winner, Tony Jarrett.

Jackson's rare appearance in a 60m flat race emphasised his preparedness for this world championship year when he held off an impressive challenge by the local sprinter, Michael Rosswess. Not disturbed by three false starts, in which Regis featured because of his need to get away quickly over a distance he had not run for two years, Jackson cruised to his win.

When Regis ran his speciality, the 200m, there was no doubting his early-season form when he overtook Darren Braithwaite, who until yesterday had been the fastest in the world this year. Regis's time of 20.65sec swept away Braithwaite's challenge and left him feeling sure of success in the World Indoor Championships.

Paula Thomas also enhanced Britain's sprinting reputation by winning both the women's 60m and 200m, and Jacqui Agyepong took the 60m hurdles in a national indoor record time of 8.05sec. In spite of that, the British women lost 78-62, which was an improvement on last year. But the fact that the Russian team had not arrived here until 2am yesterday had to be considered.

The best of Britain's athletes, who in the coming year will take the main burden of restoring the sport's battered reputation, are concentrating on the summer's World Championships in Gothenburg, to the exclusion and detriment of the indoor season. Jackson, who in the past has usually boosted his confidence and tested his fitness with a few winter warmers, now finds it unnecessary to consider entering the World Indoor Championships in Barcelona in March, and is not the only one.

Jackson is now the world's best high hurdler by such a margin that he can afford to go back to the States and then on to Australia to prepare in his own time for an attack on his own world record and dip under 12.90sec. "This year, I don't feel that I need to prove myself in the winter," he said. After 18 straight wins last summer, who would suggest otherwise?

As for the other two in Britain's top threesome, Linford Christie is also ignoring much of the indoor season by flying about the world looking for warmth, and Sally Gunnell is in South Africa, although she intends running against France in Glasgow on 11 February. Of the rest, Du'Aine Ladejo says he is "maturing" in California while his oldish rival, Roger Black, is not likely to be seen in competition much before June.

Without so many top names, yesterday the only crowd-pullers were Jackson, Regis, Jarrett and Kate Staples, better known as "Zodiac" in television's Gladiators, who in her spare time has become Britain's best woman pole vaulter, which for the moment is not saying much but may inspire others. Predictably winning yesterday, she set a Commonwealth record of 3.75 metres but failed at 3.81, a height that would have put her among the top six women in the world.

Not surprisingly, the modest cluster of stars failed to fill the arena. The British Athletic Federation said it was too early in the season to expect people to be thinking about athletics. Or was it that many former followers of the sport had thought a great deal about it and were reacting to all the bad publicity with their absence? Only the summer will answer that troublesome question, and in the meantime athletics continues to face an uphill battle.

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