New look, familiar problems

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The Independent Online
Britain's athletes - competing in an atmosphere of lights, music, action - responded to the challenge of yesterday's Ricoh Tour final in the National Indoor Arena with five national records.

A meeting which could lay claim to being the best yet staged in this country - ideal stuff to launch Channel 4's new partnership with the domestic sport - also generated some world-class performances from foreign competitors, of whom the double Olympic bronze medalist, Ato Boldon, with a high octane double over 60 and 200 metres, was the most startling.

That performance, on an afternoon resonating to the populist stand-bys of INXS, Tina Turner and Gary Glitter, has convinced the 22-year-old Trinidadian to go for gold at the World Indoor Championships in Paris in two weeks' time. Britain's golden prospects there appear to rest with Jamie Baulch and Steve Smith, respective winners of the 400m and high jump yesterday.

But amid the unfamiliar razzmatazz, an old problem re-emerged at the head of today's announcement of the British team selection for Paris. Ashia Hansen, who beat the world's top-ranked triple jumper for the second time this season, is unlikely to be named in the team, because she did not compete here in the trials a fortnight ago.

"If I am not picked I would be bitterly disappointed," said Hansen, who was training in South Africa at the time. "I would complain very loudly."

The British Athletic Federation selectors had better stand ready with their hands over their ears today. Hansen, whose winning effort of 14.57 metres bettered Rodica Petrescu-Matee of Romania by 1cm, has no obvious excuse for missing the trials which were announced as being compulsory apart from exceptional circumstances. "As I understand it, she will not be eligible for Paris," Malcolm Arnold, Britain's chief coach, said yesterday.

It is unfortunate that Britain looks like leaving a potential champion at home for championships which, now that prize money is openly available for them, have attracted a strong field.

Of the five who set British records yesterday - Debbie Marti with 1.95m in the high jump, Jeanine Whitlock with 3.90m in the pole vault, Donna Fraser, with 22.96sec for 200m, John Mayock, with 7min 43.31sec for 3000m and Phylis Smith with 51.69 at 400m - none have clear medal chances.

Among those are Cuba's Ivan Pedroso, who set an all-comers record of 8.17m in the long jump, Michelle Freeman of Jamaica, who won the 60m hurdles in 7.84sec and, of course, the ebullient Boldon, whose winning 60m time of 6.49 equalled the world's fastest this year and whose 200m time of 20.35sec is the fastest by more a tenth of a second.

The medal prospects of Britain's trials winner, Jason Livingston, was set in perspective by Boldon's performance over the shorter distance. Livingston, who has earned a British place after returning from a four- year doping ban, could only manage seventh place in 6.70, behind two other Britons, Jason Gardener and Dwain Chambers, the latter setting a British junior record of 6.63.

"I had run badly in my two previous indoor meetings and if I had come here and run 6.6 and 21 flat I was going home. I couldn't continue to lose to people indoors who couldn't beat me outdoors. I didn't want to give them that psychological advantage for the summer," Boldon said.

Trinidad will have to wait a little longer to receive its favourite son, who on this form is likely to return with gold rather than the bronze he brought back last summer.

The meeting made the most of the appearance of two of women's athletics greatest competitors in recent years: Merlene Ottey, the winner of 34 championship medals in a 20-year career, and Britain's former Olympic 400m hurdles champion, Sally Gunnell. Neither was able to mark the occasion with victory, however. Gunnell finished fourth in the 400m as Smith, despite being beaten into second place by Charity Opara of Nigeria, lowered the hurdler's record of 51.72 to 51.69. Smith, winner of the trials, had spent a week in bed with flu in the intervening period. She believes, however, that she would need to be running sub 51 seconds to have a medal chance in Paris.

Ottey, now 36, was second over 60m in 7.10sec, 0.01sec behind Christy Opara-Thompson. Afterwards she refused to be drawn on whether this would be her last year of competition although she did, tantalisingly, opine that her erstwhile training partner, Linford Christie, would run at this summer's World Championships if his form was sufficiently good, despite the fact that he has officially retired from what he calls "majors".

John Mayock, who finished fourth behind Moses Kiptanui of Kenya, also missed the world trials because of flu, but is hoping that the selectors, with whom he has supplied a doctor's note, will give him the benefit of the doubt today.

A good proportion of the 6,400 crowd remained for the last round of the high jump, where Steve Smith's attempts to enhance victory by equalling his British record of 2.38m narrowly failed. Save for the moment when two over-eager Channel 4 cameramen blocked his run up for the final attempt, Britain's Olympic bronze medalist appeared to enjoy the occasion as did everyone else.

Results, Digest, page 19