Regis keeps a regal cool and aims for world rule

John Regis tells Mike Rowbottom how today's indoor 200 metres at Birmingham fits into his plan for the season
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You could not help but feel for John Regis as he stood bare- chested in the centre of the Livin track last Sunday night and watched his old rival, Linford Christie, being mobbed by cameramen after breaking the world indoor 200 metres record.

A week earlier, Regis had talked with rising excitement about how a good field on the famously fast French track could blow the eight-year-old record of 20.36 seconds away. He did not actually say he would be the one to do it, but the intention was clear.

Had it been Frankie Fredericks, the world and Commonwealth 200m champion, who attained the new mark of 20.25, Regis might have found it easier to accept. But for the 100 metres specialist to jump into the race at a day's notice and hold off Fredericks on the line must have been hard for Regis to bear.

To his credit, Regis - an affable man - has been generous in his praise. "It has got to go down as one of the best performances I have ever seen," he said. "To come out for your first 200 of the year and run that fast was tremendous. Normally once Linford gets to the second bend you can bring him back comfortably. But this time he was getting stronger and we were weakening.

"Linford has made me realise it's not quite as easy as I thought it would be. He's pushed the standard up 15 per cent and I have to push it up 20 per cent to get back on terms."

Put like that, it sounds formidable. But the 200 metres is an event in which small mistakes can have large consequences, and Regis - who is the only Briton to have run under 20 seconds outdoors - draws comfort from the fact that his Livin race was, in his own phrase, a bad day at the office.

Two mistakes - "I attacked the second bend too early, and I rocked a bit coming out of it" - were sufficient to mar his performance. "I was slowing down in the last 50 metres because I knew I had blown my chance. But if I had put my race together as I know I can I would have been there or thereabouts. I know I am in shape."

Which brings us to Birmingham today, where Regis runs the 200 metres at the National Indoor Arena in the KP Invitation meeting against a field which includes Fredericks and other top-class names such as Olapade Adeniken of Nigeria and Patrick Stevens of Belgium.

Christie, who was originally down to do both short and long sprints, has chosen to do just the 60 metres - mindful, perhaps, of the back problem which required him to visit a Munich clinic earlier this week.

But the race still gives Regis an important opportunity to get back into the right frame of mind before next month's World Indoor Championships. He will not be facing Fredericks there - the Namibian said yesterday he wanted to concentrate on defending his outdoor title. He may yet be facing Christie there - the world and Olympic 100m champion will announce his intentions this weekend. What is certain, however, is that Regis needs a win for his own sake.

"The aim this year has been to kick start the resurgence of John Regis as a gold medal contender," said the man who salvaged a Commonwealth silver medal from a 1994 season which was blighted by an untimely Achilles tendon injury.

At 28, he is keenly aware that the time is fully ripe for him. "I believe I am in the prime years of my athletics career now," he said. "I think I've got five good years left in track and field. I want to be winning major championships now until I am 33."

The 200 metres is one of several high-powered events in a meeting which has benefited financially from being the third of four designated within the Ricoh indoor tour.

Christie, who also lowered his European 60m record to 6.47 last week, faces Donovan Bailey of Canada, who has run 6.55 this season, and Fredericks, who ran 6.52 behind him in Livin.

Explaining his decsion not to go to Barcelona, Fredericks said yesterday: "The 200m indoors can be dangerous if the track is not laid right. You only need to hit a bad spot and it can cost you the whole season - even your career."

The men's 3,000 metres presents a formidable challenge to British runners including Matthew Yates and John Mayock. It includes the reigning world indoor champion, Gennaro Di Napoli, Venuste Niyongabo, the 21-year-old from Burundi who is currently the nearest challenger to Noureddine Morceli over 1500m, and Moses Kiptanui, the Kenyan who lowered his own world indoor record to 7min 35.15sec on 12 February, and then won at the Livin meeting in 7:37.14.