Jackson is honed for gold

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Colin Jackson makes his outdoor debut at the Golden Gala in Rome tonight, the opening European grand prix of the season. All indications are that he will serve emphatic notice of his intention to retain the world 110 metres hurdles title this summer.

Jackson, who returned to Britain 10 days ago after three-months' training in Florida, is in fine shape, according to his long-time coach, Malcolm Arnold. "He didn't know on Monday if all the other main hurdlers would be in Rome," Arnold said yesterday. "But he said he hoped they were out there. When I asked him why, he said: 'It's better for them to experience it than read about it'."

Those facing the Jackson Experience tonight include the 6ft 7ins European silver medallist, Florian Schwarthoff of Germany, and America's world indoor silver medallist, Courtney Hawkins. Also in the line-up is his fellow Welshman, Paul Gray, who broke through last summer with a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games behind Jackson and Tony Jarrett.

Not present is the man who ended Jackson's unbeaten run indoors this year - albeit with the same time - America's world indoor champion, Allen Johnson. But in the 110m event, the Welshman has not been beaten since just after he won the world title in August 1993 when he was third in Berlin behind another American, Jack Pierce, and the Olympic champion, Mark McKoy.

Since then, he has recorded 29 straight victories, including successful defences of the European and Commonwealth titles. This year Jackson, 28, believes he can threaten his own world record of 12.91sec, given the right conditions. "There are areas of my hurdling that I can still improve on," he said.

John Regis, who has recently returned from winter training in California with John Smith's group at UCLA, opens his grand prix season in the 100m and 200m alongside Linford Christie. Regis has had a comparatively settled winter; last year he and his fellow Britons, Tony Jarrett and Gary Cadogan, were caught up in the Los Angeles earthquake. But a slight recurrence of the Achilles tendon injury which nearly ruined last season has left him with a few doubts to clear.

Dennis Mitchell, America's 100m bronze medallist behind Christie at the last Olympics and World Championships, expressed surprise that he would be in a separate 100m to the one in which Christie is racing in tonight. Mitchell, who has just recovered from a hamstring injury which kept him out of action for five weeks, is one of the few Americans competing in the Golden Gala, with many of the other big names staying in the United States to prepare for the national championships in Sacramento, California, next week.

The 200m gives Christie an opportunity for revenge against his winter training partner, Frankie Fredericks, the world champion, who won in St Denis last Thursday when the Briton finished fifth. But the Namibian is on a roll after recording times of 10.07sec over 100m and 20.41 over 200m this season.