Regis determined to catch fire for Olympics

Mike Rowbottom previews an important weekend for British athletes

British athletics will welcome back a familiar figure at Birmingham today as John Regis makes his domestic seasonal debut in the Ricoh International.

But Regis's coach, Mike McFarlane, identifies a difference in him - quite simply, he has never worked so hard.

After the disappointments of the last two years - when a combination of injuries and an unsettling disagreement with the British Athletic Federation over pay undermined his performances - he is determined to get Olympic year right. "He has been training like a demon," said his coach, Mike McFarlane. "It's like he's been possessed."

Regis, a silver medallist in the 1993 World Championships, knows that at 29 he is still capable of making a major impact on world sprinting. And his winning 200m time of 20.77sec last weekend in Stuttgart gave an indication of the kind of form he is in.

Today he faces the world indoor champion, Geir Moen of Norway, who took the European title two years ago after Regis had been forced to drop out of the championships with an Achilles tendon injury.

Two of Britain's younger talents, Iwan Thomas and Jason Gardener, also face world indoor champions at 400m and 60m respectively.

Thomas, 22, is in the form of his life as he lines up against Darnell Hall of the United States. At 6ft 2in and 13st, the young Welshman announced himself with a career-best of 45.22sec last week in South Africa, which took him to the top of the early world outdoor rankings for the year.

"I was happily shocked," he admitted. "I've not really done any speed work yet. It means I can aim for an Olympic place, at least in the relay. For an individual spot I will have to be looking at going under 45 seconds."

The former teenage BMX bike international also faces two other British contenders - the European champion, Du'aine Ladejo, who has recovered from the injuries which marred last year, and the European junior champion, Mark Hylton, who ran a personal best of 46.45sec indoors last weekend.

Gardener has the biggest indoor challenge of his career after running a sizzling 6.55 for the 60m on the same track a fortnight ago.

It might be expecting too much for the 20-year-old from Bath to match Canada's Bruny Surin, who followed his title win with a 100m silver medal behind his compatriot Donovan Bailey at the outdoor World Championships in Gothenburg.

But his more established domestic rivals, Darren Braithwaite and Mike Rosswess, will need to be on their mettle to withstand him.

Sally Gunnell continues her comeback in Britain's showpiece winter meeting with a 400m against Sandra Farmer-Patrick of the United States, whom she beat narrowly in the 1993 World Championship 400m hurdles.

And Mozambique's Maria Mutola will seek a world 1000m record after announcing Olympic plans which will certainly interest Britain's new middle distance No 1, Kelly Holmes.

Mutola says she plans to double up at 800 and 1500m in Atlanta. Holmes, bronze and silver medalist in Gothenburg, is considering whether to do the same, or concentrate on one event.

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