Prime time for Jarrett

World Athletics Championships: Jackson backs his friend to race out of the shadows and into a kingdom of his own; Norman Fox in Gothenburg meets the hurdler tipped to wear the crown
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The Independent Online
TONY Jarrett is one of those unfortunate sportsmen, blessed with plentiful talent but born at the wrong time. Outstanding goalkeepers who happened to be around when Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence were sharing England appearances knew the feeling; so did the several excellent middle- distance runners who had the misfortune to see only the heels of Seb Coe and Steve Ovett.

Jarrett is used to getting precious little credit for being one of the best 110m runners in the business; the best happens to be his friend and fellow British team member, Colin Jackson. Often he has said: "Come the day, come the place." Jackson would probably have ensured that Gothenburg this week was neither the place nor the time for Jarrett, but the great Welshman is not competing here and the English record-holder is. Will this be the occasion when the shadow takes the form of a new champion?

Jackson's decision not to run at the World Championships was 95 per cent injury and the rest disillusion. He still feels deeply hurt that the British Athletic Federation and the media cast doubts on his integrity at the recent national championships when he pulled out hurt only to run for money the following day. He accuses the federation of failing to appreciate his years of loyalty. "If they had wanted I would have brought back the gold medal," he said. "They will never be successful if they don't have a good relationship with the athletes."

Jackson's absence and that of the Olympic champion Mark McKoy theoretically raises Jarrett's hopes of winning gold later this week, but the theory falters because his good form seemed to come too early in the season and the Americans, including the double Olympic champion Roger Kingdom, are looking like a group of predators waiting to pounce on the same opportunity. On the other hand, Jarrett was the silver medal winner in the last World Championships and says that a few setbacks recently ought not to stop him doing better this time.

The problem is that, like Linford Christie, Kingdom is an athlete who reacts to the big occasion. On current rankings he may appear to be only the fifth fastest in the world, with 13.11sec (Jarrett is sixth with a best of 13.13), but come the day he is as likely to ignore the form guide as Christie is to sweep by men 10 years his junior.

Asked about Jarrett's chances, Jackson said: "I'm not sure whether he's prone to shrink or freeze a bit when I'm in the field, but what I do know is that the bloke has enough ability to step into my shoes and become world champion. He must have that belief because he's got the talent, but it's all down to attitude. I want him to win. I think he can, but I'm not going to put pressure on him. It's a red-hot field. Roger Kingdom is back and Florian Schwarthoff is looking good. But I would back Tony to take the lot of them."

Early-year training suggested that Jarrett would do well at the world indoor championships in Barcelona, which he did, but not well enough to capture more than a bronze medal behind the Americans Allen Johnson and Courtney Hawkins. Nevertheless, he felt he was quicker at the "front end" of his races and would continue to improve. Jackson has been a lot better in that area than Jarrett who finds it annoying rather than demoralising that his starts are not on a par with the rest of his race. However, he says Kingdom's appearance here is both a threat and an encouragement. "He's never had a reputation for being a fast starter, but look what he's won," he said.

At 26, Jarrett is slightly younger than Jackson and a lot younger than Kingdom, who is 32, so he still believes he has the years on his side. But notwhen it comes to beating Jackson. He said: "When he comes back I have to know that he's going to be around for the rest of my career." He thinks that being in the same camp as Jackson - they are both represented by Nuff Respect and often train together - gathers some useful reflected appreciation from the Americans. "They see us line up together and know they've got something to beat. But if he's not here, they still know they've got a problem with me."

That was the case when he recently ran in Oslo and won in spite of an indifferent time of 13.31 sec (the world record held by Jackson is 12.91) but still kept the sluggish American Hawkins in second place. He knows that while the Americans may respect him, that respect is of a paler shade than that accorded Jackson. Equally, heknows that his challenge here is on a broader front than on those days when, for instance, in an earlier championship the British federation officials were so keen not to let the rest of the world's top hurdlers know that Jackson had an injury they went to great lengths to stop Jarrett finding out. This time he gets the VIP treatment.

His rivals are not all American. The German Schwarthoff has been impressive this season and counts an indisposed Jackson among his victims. It was Schwarthoff who was the main victim of one of Jarrett's better days at Crystal Palace last month when the German was forced into second, with Allen Johnson third. Achievements such as that suggest that in spite of subsequent less inspired performances Jarrett could have another good day this week.

All last summer he was looking for that one opportunity to beat Jackson but he also had to run with a pad under one foot to protect an inflamed toe. Christie has had a similar problem this season and finishes most of his races limping. He and Jarrett compare blisters and talk about skinning everyone on the big day.