Smith sets the tone of British optimism

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The Independent Online
The words "world record" flashed up on the national indoor arena's giant screen on Saturday for the first time since Noureddine Morceli and Liz McColgan set new marks for the 1,000 and 5,000 metres respectively at the same meeting in 1992.

But while Maria Mutola's reduction of Brigitte Kraus's 18-year-old 1,000m record to 2min 32.08sec was the statistical peak of an absorbing Ricoh Tour international meeting, the performances of several British athletes gave promise of further high endeavour in Olympic year.

Steve Smith leapt up this year's world high jump rankings with 2.36m; Ashia Hansen beat the world champion - Inessa Kravets - with a Commonwealth and All-comers' record in the triple jump; and Tony Jarrett also defeated a world champion, Allen Johnson, in the high hurdles.

Sally Gunnell was clearly not amused at being disqualified for the first time in her career. But unlike her American rival Sandra Farmer-Patrick, who was also adjudged to have broken too early from her lane in the 400m, she maintained a diplomatic stance.

Farmer-Patrick, as forthright as her glitz 'n' nails track persona suggests, did not mess about. "It was the officials' mistake," said the woman who finished runner-up to Gunnell at the last Olympics.

It did not really matter to either athlete, however - they both had an extending run-out before being passed on the line by Deon Hemmings of Jamaica, who won in 53.16sec. Gunnell, eager for racing after nearly 18 months' absence with injury, will compete on Wednesday in Moscow. "I'll be taking a big coat, and big wellies," she said. Very sensible.

Smith's clearance, as so often in his career, came with his third and final attempt. His celebratory double back flip on the landing pad - no rehearsal required here - indicated the state of mind in which he is now proceeding towards Atlanta. Even the news of the world record holder, Javier Sotomayor, produced the highest jump of this indoor season when he cleared 2.37m should not unduly dampen his spirits.

The Briton's satisfaction was unacceptably infringed, however, by the conduct of Steinar Hoen, Norway's European champion. Having jumped without failure to 2.34, Hoen defaulted from the competition to catch a plane to Ballingen, in Germany, where he was due to compete yesterday.

Smith, also due to jump at the meeting, resigned himself early on to flying the following morning. "I would never think about leaving a competition if I'd already jumped 2.34," he said. "But then he didn't have a home crowd to consider."

Hoen's departure nevertheless robbed the competition - and the crowd - of potential excitement. Natural justice would demand that he at least lose some of his appearance money.

Smith's plans do not include next month's European Indoor Championships in Stockholm. But Hansen and Jarrett will be there.

Hansen, whose effort of 14.58m beat a field which included virtually all of her main triple jump rivals, described the performance as "very important" in the run-up to Stockholm. Did she believe, someone asked, that she could go on to become a 15 metres jumper? She nodded emphatically.

Jarrett finished strongly in the 60m hurdles to head off the two leading Americans, Johnson and Courtney Hawkins, in a time of 7.62sec.

His training partner, John Regis, also intends to challenge for a medal in Stockholm, although his progress was jolted a little by a defeat over 200m by Geir Moen of Norway, whose winning time of 20.69sec put him above Regis to third place in this year's world rankings.

Other British medals appear a possibility for Du'Aine Ladejo and Mark Hylton - third and fourth respectively behind America's world indoor 400m champion Darnell Hall - and Jason Gardener, who finished third behind Davidson Ezinwa and the world indoor champion Bruny Surin in the 60m.

"He's mixing it with the big guys," said Gardener's coach Dave Lease, "so now he knows where he stands." It was a lesson more than one Briton learned on Saturday - and the overall impression was encouraging.