Jarrett steps out of the shadows

As Christie considers a sprint double, Britain's nearly man of the hurdles has a high ambition. Norman Fox reports
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The Independent Online
SHOULD his hamstring injury stop John Regis running in the World Indoor Athletics Championships in Barcelona this week, Linford Christie may yet appear in both the 60 metres and 200 metres. That would mean Christie's competing in the semi-final of the longer distance only 45 minutes after the final of the shorter race on Friday.

Christie is the new world record holder for 200 metres indoors but said last weekend that it was impossible to "double up". Then Regis was injured and the Olympic champion has let it be known to the championship organisers (the International Amateur Athletics Federation) that he may change his mind.

Regis is not required to make a decision until later this week but is unlikely to risk his world outdoor championship chances this summer by running when injured. His absence would further damage a British team strong on potential but weak on real medal chances. However, a golden double by Christie would raise Britain's hopes at a meeting many top athletes are ignoring because it comes too close to the start of the outdoor season.

An IAAF spokesman said yesterday that in future the event was likely to be held earlier in the winter. The organisation concedes that the lack of American interest combined with a serious absence of top names in Barcelona make it likely that ways will have to be found to reduce the pressure on top-class athletes. Meanwhile the IAAF is not best pleased with the Americans.

Although Britain declared a team last week, many other countries are deliberately withholding their announcements in retaliation for the Americans' ignoring the IAAF deadline and holding their trials yesterday and Friday. However, there was little doubt that the US team would include their challenger to Colin Jackson's hurdles domination, Allen Johnson. With Jackson absent, Britain's Tony Jarrett faces another obstacle to his rare chance of success.

Jarrett is among perhaps half a dozen British athletes who have a medal- winning chance, but gold beckons only one. Christie must inspire the rest and divert attention away from the absentees, including Sally Gunnell, who see the championship as one event too many. Jarrett views it differently. He has the misfortune to be exceptionally talented at a difficult event at the same time as another Briton happens to be the best. "I don't ever wish Colin any harm," Jarrett said. "If he wasn't around, I'd win more often, but I wouldn't be running as fast." This weekend Jackson is not going to be around, but Jarrett will still need to run the fastest time of his life to become the world indoor champion.

For most of last summer he ran with the disadvantage of an injury to a big toe - a similar situation had hastened the end of Gary Lineker's football career. Jarrett never mentioned it, but running with pads in your track shoes is not ideal. This season his padding around the indoor circuit has seen him running very quickly indeed.

When Jackson suffered his first defeat in 18 months, in Madrid three weeks ago, he dismissed Johnson's win as one of those things that happens when you look upon the indoor season as mere preparation for the real thing. But Jarrett took heart. Johnson and Jarrett together have become a two-pronged threat to Jackson's season, one he started by talking confidently of remaining the undisputed world leader.

Jarrett says he would rather have Jackson in the final on Sunday because only by beating the world record holder will he prove to himself that he has a legitimate claim to be his successor. A spectator's comment at the 1993 world championships when it took a world record by Jackson to beat him will not be quickly erased from Jarrett's mind. "He came up and said: `Do you realise you're the fastest loser ever?' That stuck with me."

Britain will probably come back from Spain with only a small handful of medals but such predictions have regularly proved over-pessimistic. Some inspiration from Christie on Friday evening could raise performances by others. Those Britons with outside chances of medals will need to improve their personal bests to step on to the podium. Melanie Neef, for instance, heard this week that among her opponents in the 400 metres will be the seemingly invincible Russian 60m world record-holder Irina Privalova,who says winning the short sprint is becoming boring.

Christie's recent defeats are probably insignificant blips, but perhaps it is as well that Frankie Fredericks, of Namibia, will not be in Barcelona. Neither, now, will the Canadian Donovan Bailey, who beat Christie in Stockholm recently but lost out in a photo-finish to Robert Esmie in last week's Canadian trials. But there is a small army of Americans sprinters who still seem to think that the criterion for judging who is the best has more to do with records than world and Olympic titles. That should be enough to give Christie another surge of adrenalin and the one major title that has eluded him.

If Christie, Darren Braithwaite (who beat him over 60m in Birmingham last weekend), Jarrett, John Mayock (3,000m), Dalton Grant (high jump), Neef (400m) and Ashia Hansen (triple jump) all perform to the best of their potential, every one of them should secure a medal, but from the team point of view, others have to exceed expectations.

The 18-year-old Mark Hylton, in the 400m, will probably feel overawed, but from the evidence of his running indoors this season he can benefit by experiencing the special demands of a major event. The same can be said of Mayock who is pressing Rob Denmark's British 3,000m record (Denmark has refused to run after a row with the British Athletic Federation's promotions officer, Ian Stewart).

A sad reflection of Britain's decline in men's middle- distance running since the Eighties is the fact that no 800m competitor achieved the qualifying standard apart from the Scot Tom McKean, the winner of the world indoor championship title over the distance two years ago, who made himself unavailable for selection, as did Martin Steele and Craig Winrow. Anthony Whiteman and Brian Treacy run in the 1,500m, and though neither can expect a medal, Treacy, a 23-year-old student at Queen's University in Belfast, did sufficiently well in last summer's Commonwealth Games in Victoria, where he was sixth in 3min 38.91sec, to justify the selectors' persistence.

Among those on the verge of a breakthrough is Jacqui Agyepong, the United Kingdom record holder for the 60m hurdles. Overall, though, the championships are more likely to be a testing ground for developing talent than a measure of Britain's world outdoor championship potential.

Other countries, especially Russia, are also sending teams lacking in top names who are saving themselves for Gothenburg. They and Sally Gunnell, now back in training after a slight injury, and Jackson may be the wise ones for giving Barcelona a miss.

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