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SPORT / Forget the rest, who were the best in '93?: Athletics: Nice guy finally clears last hurdle - Colin Jackson

IN one sense, 10 metres decided the athletics performance of 1993. Once Colin Jackson had cleared the first barrier of the World Championship 110 metres hurdles final ahead of the field in Stuttgart, he knew he had won. And he was right. A time of 12.91sec brought him the world record as well, writes Mike Rowbottom.

But there were other world records at this year's main event. What made the Welshman's performance remarkable was a drama that stemmed not from his conflict with his fellow men - the seven other finalists were no more than extras on the night - but from the conflict within himself.

Jackson has been the best high hurdler in the world for the last three years. Not even his Canadian friend and training partner, Mark McKoy, who won the Olympic title last year and the world indoor title last March, disputed it. But when Jackson arrived in Stuttgart he was under enormous pressure to prove that he was not some Ron Clarke-like figure who would go down in history as one of those who never gained the global victory his talents appeared to merit.

At the Crystal Palace meeting shortly before the World Championships began, one of Jackson's closest rivals, Tony Dees of the United States, was invited by one interviewer to describe Jackson as 'a choker' - someone who could not deliver on the big occasion. Dees agreed. Jackson laughed it off; but he was deeply hurt by the suggestion.

How could such a charge have been levelled at a man who had taken Olympic silver behind the great Roger Kingdom at the 1988 Olympics, and gone on to add the Commonwealth and European titles? The answer lay in subsequent events, as Jackson failed to take the next logical step in his career.

At the 1991 World Championships, he had to pull out of his semi-final after injuring his back warming up. In 1992, he ran the fastest time at the Barcelona Olympics in his first round, but suffered a rib cartilage injury in the next race and eventually stumbled in a calamitous seventh in the final.

What was up with Jackson? Were these sudden strains an excuse, or the result of excessive tension? Had he got the right stuff after all?

The events of the World Indoor Championships in Toronto seemed to indicate that Jackson lacked another vital competitive element, namely luck. He was narrowly beaten by McKoy, who admitted that he had got off to an illegally fast start.

Such was Jackson's pre-eminence in the races leading up to the World Championships that those of a suspicious nature feared it was too good to be true. Sudden withdrawals from the Monte Carlo and Zurich meetings on the eve of Stuttgart stimulated all the familiar fears. But this time, Jackson never faltered. Had McKoy been present - rather than absent with a hamstring injury - it is hard to believe he would have been within five metres of a man who finally put together everything he had worked on.

Realising his achievement, Jackson reacted as never before. The easy grin with which he greeted victory and - perplexingly - defeat was replaced by an intensity more characteristic of his great friend, Linford Christie. Jackson was convulsed with joy and relief. Christie cried for him.

(Photograph omitted)