Livingston keen to face the music

Mike Rowbottom says athletic's Bupa Games will not lack for glitz and style
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The Independent Online
Call it son et lumiere, or call it Gladiators, but tomorrow's Bupa Indoor Games in Birmingham will be getting the full treatment.

Leading competitors such as Merlene Ottey, Bruny Surin and Vebjorn Rodal, within these shores for the concluding event of the lucrative Ricoh indoor tour, will be introduced to the National Indoor Arena crowd with personalised theme tunes and will complete in a dramatically spotlit environment.

This initiative from the British Athletic Federation is an attempt, literally, to highlight the key parts of a meeting which involves numerous past and present Olympic and world champions.

Dramatic lighting is most likely to be complemented in terms of action over 60 metres, where Britain's world trials winner Jason Livingston, back into his stride after a four-year drugs ban, faces a daunting field.

Livingston, who seeks his first medal since 1992 at the World Indoor Championships in Paris from 7 to 9 March, will be able to measure his form against the current Olympic 100 and 200m bronze medallist Ato Boldon, as well as Surin, the Canadian who is going for a third consecutive world 60m title next month, and two of the leading Americans, Dennis Mitchell and Jon Drummond.

Two others, Deji Aliu of Nigeria and Ray Stewart of Jamaica, are also higher in the rankings than Livingston, whose best this year is 6.55sec. The fastest man in the field, Surin, has run 0.1sec faster than that, the third quickest recorded.

That event is likely to provide satisfactory material for Channel 4 as they make the first transmission within their new contract with British athletics.

The competitiveness of the short sprint is likely to be matched by the long jump competition, which ranges Ivan Pedroso, the Cuban whose recent indoor mark has only been bettered by Carl Lewis, against a field in which five others have also cleared eight metres. In the 400m, Britain's Jamie Baulch has the opportunity to confirm his standing as favourite for the world indoor title by securing what would be a fourth successive victory over the reigning champion, Darnell Hall of the United States.

Baulch, who lowered the British indoor record to 45.39sec at the world indoor trials a fortnight ago, wisely decided to give Thursday night's Ricoh tour meeting in Stockholm a miss after seeing his form diminish slightly in the intervening time, he should have recovered sufficient energy to secure a victory which would earn him pounds 12,000 within the tour prize money system and the biggest pay day of his career.

Meanwhile Baulch's coach, Colin Jackson, who ran the world and Olympic high hurdles champion Allen Johnson desperately close in Lievin last weekend, will try to sharpen up for an attempt on the world indoor title against a field which includes Tranel Hawkins, the American who took the world indoor silver in 1995 and defeated Jackson over 110m hurdles when they last met in Rome.

For two of the highest profile athletes tomorrow, the tasks appear relatively undemanding in terms of rivals. Merlene Ottey, making what may well be her last indoor appearance in this country, is a clear favourite in the women's 60m.

Ottey, 36, is the reigning world indoor champion at the distance, and has won 45 major championship medals in a career stretching back 17 years. She won the same event at this meeting four years ago in 7.12sec, and has a personal best of 6.96, close to Irina Privalova's world record of 6.92.

Vebjorn Rodal, Norway's Olympic 800m champion is said to be making an attempt on the world indoor record for his distance.

Sally Gunnell, a more familiar face at the NIA, will maintain her comeback from the Achilles tendon injury which ruined her Olympic defence with another appearance over 400m. Gunnell - whose theme tune for the athletes introduction will be "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" - will be hoping to live up to her billing against her domestic rival Phylis Smith, who defeated her with a bold performance in the world indoor trials.

Smith, who came close to Gunnell's British indoor record of 51.72sec, could go even faster tomorrow. "I'm not definitely saying I will break the record but this is a very strong field and it will push us all to good times," Smith said.