Lewis eager to defend Olympic long jump title

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Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson are on their way to Atlanta, but the way they secured their Olympic berths could not have been more contrasting.

The 34-year-old Lewis gained an opportunity to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive long jump gold medal when he leapt 8.30 metres on his second attempt and hung on for the third and final place in the US trials in Atlanta on Wednesday.

"This is a very exciting time for me because the long jump has always been my favourite event," said Lewis, who finished last in the 100 metres trial. "Just to be up here with a chance to go to the Olympics again is a tremendous feeling."

Mike Powell, the 1992 silver medallist and world record holder, won the long jump with 8.39m. Joe Greene, the 1992 bronze medallist, was second with 8.34m which means the same trio that represented the United States in Barcelona will be returning to Atlanta.

Johnson, meanwhile, raced to the third fastest 400m of all time, clocking 43.44sec for his 53rd consecutive victory in the event. Johnson said a poor reaction to the starter's gun cost him a world record. "I started to run backwards and it cost me at the end of the race," Johnson said. "It's nobody's fault but mine that I didn't break the world record."

Only Butch Reynolds, whose world record is 43.29, and Johnson, who won the World Championship last year in 43.39, have run faster. Reynolds, the 1988 Olympic silver medallist, claimed second place in 43.91, the first time he has run under 44 seconds since 1988.

Jonathan Edwards has been able to recharge his batteries during a break from competition and is relishing a return to triple jumping in Helsinki on Tuesday. The world champion pulled out of Britain's Olympic trials with a bruised heel and sore knee after needing a last-round leap to maintain a run of 16 straight victories at the Rome Grand Prix. It meant he was omitted from the initial squad selected for Atlanta and asked to prove his fitness.

"I feel much more positive now," Edwards said. "It's almost like starting my season again. I had the chance over the past fortnight to step back and really get into my training regime."

An 18m victory by Kenny Harrison in the US trials reminded Edwards of the task facing him in Atlanta. "If I'm jumping at my best, I will be tough to beat," he said. "But the Americans will be very strong and the rest will probably raise their performance by 5-10 per cent. I go could go and not get a medal, let alone the gold.

"It would be heartbreaking, but I'm not afraid of losing. If I never have another year like the last one, I will still treasure it."

The Commonwealth heptathlon champion, Denise Lewis, has turned down the chance to double up at Atlanta. Lewis was also selected for the long jump, but she has now decided to concentrate on her specialist event.