reports from Rome
Britain's two male world champions enjoyed sharply differing fortunes here at the opening European grand prix meeting of the season on a night which culminated in Moses Kiptanui, of Kenya, setting a world 5,000 metres record of 12min 55.30sec, which surpassed last year's mark of 12.56.96 by Haile Gebresilasie of Ethiopia.
Colin Jackson got his outdoor season off to a winning start in the 110m hurdles, despite being made to work harder than expected. But Linford Christie lost at both 200m, where the world champion, Frankie Fredericks won with some ease, and - less expectedly - at 100m. That means Christie has now lost four races in the space of a week, as many as he suffered lost in the entire season last year.
It is undoubtedly a disappointing start for the Olympic champion, who is running with painkilling injections on the toe which he bruised while training recently in Florida.
Kiptanui, the world 3,000m steeplechase record holder and formerly world record holder at 3,000m, was an ecstatic figure at the line after overhauling his fellow Kenyan, Daniel Komen, in the final straight at the end of a superbly competitive race which also saw Worku Bikila of Ethiopia go under 13 minutes, watched by 46,000 spectators.
Komen finished with a world junior record of 12:56.12; and John Nuttall of Britain finished fifth in a personal best of 13:16.70, a time which looks perfectly suited to securing him a place in Britain's European Cup team later this month. Kiptanui, voted Athlete of the Meeting, won an 18-month-old race horse for his trouble.
Christie lined up in a separate 100m race from Dennis Mitchell of the United States, whose nomination as the top sprinter last year by the American bible of the sport, Track and Field News rankled with the Briton.
He got away to a reasonable start, but as Davidson Ezinwa, the American- based Nigerian, came into the picture at 60 metres he was unable to produce his usual surge. Ezinwa crossed the line in 10.10sec before cavorting away wildly round the bend as his achievement sank in. Not the time - the result.
Christie's time of 10.15sec was respectable given that it was his second 100m of the outdoor season. He clapped Ezinwa before looking up resignedly to the replay on the screen.
There were two minor consolations to hand. Mitchell's winning time in the other race was 0.01sec slower than his; and from the point of view of historical precedent, his last race in Rome two years ago, when he finished seventh in the 200 metres, presaged a season where he finished as world champion. But Christie knows there is work to be done if history is to repeat itself.
In the 200m he was in contention at the final bend, but Fredericks eased away to win in 20.42, with Andrew Tynes of the Bahamas moving through for second place ahead of the Briton, who finished in 20.53sec.
John Regis, running his first individual outdoor race since winter training in California, also found the going tough as he finished sixth in 20.77.
Jackson prevailed partly by leaning at the line as only he can to hold off a powerful and sustained challenge from Courtney Hawkins, of the United States.
The Welshman, who finished his indoor season early in order to spend time training in Florida, got away to a characteristically swift start and into the smooth rhythm which had taken him to 29 consecutive successes in the previous two years.
But over the final third of the race he failed to pull away conclusively and Hawkins seemed briefly about to inflict on Jackson his first defeat since he lost to Jack Pierce and Mark McKoy in Berlin shortly after winning the world title in Stuttgart. But he caught the last three hurdles in his efforts and Jackson was able to gain a yard by the line, which he crossed in 13.18sec.
Only two men have run faster this season - the Germans Mike Fenner and Eric Kaiser, who both recorded 13.06 in finishing first and second respectively at Scheesel on Sunday.
Jackson proclaimed himself OK afterwards, although there was a qualifying shrug of the shoulders. "I'm happy with that, because the others have been racing already," he said. "I chose to start the season late, and I was nervous beforehand, but you should be nervous. I'm a bit race rusty, but I'm happy with the way I held things together in the circumstances."
Hawkins, whose 13.24sec was his best for the season, was also satisfied. "I got away well and I got into Colin's rhythm, which helped me. But I lost it when I clipped the hurdles at the end. Colin is hard to catch. But that's my plan. He's the man everyone is shooting for."
Not the only man, as Christie will testify.
The women's 400 metres hurdles, from which Sally Gunnell dropped out last week in order to recover from an Achilles tendon injury, provided nothing to alarm the absent world champion. Deon Hemmings of Jamaica, second fastest in the world this year, won in 54.20sec, 0.04sec off her best of the season.Reuse content