Spirits are lifted by Holmes and Robb

KP NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: Impressive performances help turn thoughts away from the dissension in British athletics
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British athletics, riven by dissension between its elite athletes and the governing body, yesterday drew sustenance from a traditionally rewarding area.

As a vibrant second day of competition at the KP National Championships reminded the public of what the sport should be all about, the 800 metres - beloved of Coe, Ovett and Cram - provided performances which lifted collective morale.

In the men's event, Curtis Robb reaffirmed his huge potential as he ran boldly from the bell to win in 1min 46.78sec, in what was only his second major race since returning from longstanding injury and illness.

The women's equivalent produced a performance which ranked with Steve Smith's high jump of 2.35m the day before as the best of the meeting. Kelly Holmes, apparently denied the opportunity of doubling up at 800 and 1500m here by the late intervention of her agent, Andy Norman, made her point with characteristic commitment as she won in 1:57.56, the fastest time by a British woman in 10 years, and only 0.14sec outside the British record set then by Kirsty Wade.

Holmes said she had spoken with Malcolm Arnold, Britain's chief coach, before the race about doubling up in the World Championships, the team for which will be announced today. Upon seeing a delighted Arnold afterwards, she said: "There's your answer".

Holmes, who won Commonwealth gold and European silver last season despite having to combine training with the demands of being a full-time Army physical training instructor, is now established as one of Britain's best hopes of a medal in Gothenburg next month. "Next time I can drop below 1:57," she said. "Everything is going for me at the moment."

Robb, who raced in the knowledge that he had gained the World Championship qualifying standard the previous week at Crystal Palace, said afterwards that the mental pressure of returning to top-class racing was proving the hardest thing for him to deal with.

For all that, he seized this race from the bell in a way which he would never have believed possible just three weeks ago, when he was laid low by a virus which seemed at the time about to ruin his comeback. Robb has put his medical studies on hold this year to concentrate on running. Belatedly, it appears a good decision. He goes forward now to an event which is intriguingly open, with general international standards having dropped dramatically in recent years.

The men's 400m proved a triumph for another runner who knows all about injury, Mark Richardson, whose career has been disrupted for nearly two years with a succession of Achilles tendon problems.

With Roger Black taking time out to nurse a knee injury, and Du'Aine Ladejo, the European champion, also absent with a hamstring tear, two places in the event seemed reserved, and Richardson - who has been suffering minor niggles of his own in recent weeks - was obliged to state his case. He did so emphatically, moving clear of the field to win in 44.94, his second best time ever.

Behind him was his 18-year-old Windsor, Slough and Eton colleague Mark Hylton, who ran a personal best of 45.83. Hylton, who had a rewarding indoor season, had a main ambition of winning the European junior title this season. But he indicated that his ambitions may have expanded yesterday, as he said he would be willing to take on anyone in a run-off for an individual place.

John Regis, running in his specialist distance of 200m, built upon his confidence-building run in Lausanne two weeks ago by winning in 20.37, with Solomon Wariso probably doing enough to claim a place in Goth-enburg alongside him, with a late run for second place in 20.53. Darren Braithwaite was third, and Tony Jarrett, electing not to run the 110m hurdles, was fourth in 20.67. In his absence, Neil Owen took the high hurdles title with a time of 13.63.

With the two fastest 100m times this year, the Canadian championships gave Linford Christie something to ponder on as he battles on against hamstring and toe injuries. Donovan Bailey ran the fastest time, 9.91, while Bruny Surin, the world indoor champion, recorded 9.97.

Meanwhile, the British Athletic Federation had something else to think about with Saturday's news that Guy Marshall, a 23-year-old member of Hull Springhead AC, has tested positive for an illegal substance, believed to be anabolic steroids, after competing for the North of England in Birmingham on 20 May. He is now suspended pending a hearing.

n Sammy Langat, of Kenya, ran the world's fastest 800m of the year in Finland yesterday. Langat, 23, clocked a personal best of 1:43.84.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 23