Britain's indoor season got under way in expansive style at Glasgow's Kelvin Hall yesterday as a packed crowd saw a world record in the women's pole vault from Russia's Svetlana Feofanova and a sequence of wins for home athletes that promised much for next month's World Indoor Championships in Birmingham.
Jason Gardener impressed with a 60m victory over his younger rival Mark Lewis-Francis, Daniel Caines put down a similar marker by beating his predecessor as world indoor 400m champion, Jamie Baulch, and Kelly Holmes and Michael East produced tactically accomplished performances over 1500m. Colin Jackson also rose to the challenge in this Norwich Union International, marking his record 70th British appearance with victory in the 60m hurdles. For Jonathan Edwards, however, there was an unpalatable home defeat in the triple jump by the young Swede who beat him to the European title in Munich last August, Christian Olsson.
With her pale face and long ginger hair, Feofanova looks like a toned-up Anne of Green Gables, and the story of her year looks like being an interesting one as she proceeds towards a meeting with her US rival Stacy Dragila in Birmingham's National Indoor Arena six weeks from now.
The 22-year-old Russian went into this meeting knowing that Dragila had set a world best for the year of 4.71 at a meeting in Boston a few hours earlier. She was clearly determined to respond to the performance of the woman who beat her to the 2001 outdoor world title on countback after both had attained 4.75.
Accordingly she set the bar at 4.76, clearing it at the first attempt despite giving it a whack as she came down. That was enough to earn the $50,000 prize for a world record at the meeting, but she then raised the bar to 4.82 in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to eclipse Dragila's outdoor world record of 4.81.
When, injury permitting, the two women seek the world indoor title it promises to be one of the contests of the championships. But, judging by yesterday's evidence, there will be many other compelling rivalries.
At 36, Edwards acknowledges that holding off the challenge of Olsson in the event he has dominated for eight years is the only thing that is keeping him in the sport. He confessed to being "scared and nervous" before competition began, and his reasons for trepidation soon became clear as the 23-year-old from Gothenburg bettered his first round effort of 16.97m with a third round of 17.15 that proved the winning distance.
In winning, Olsson equalled a record of clearing 17 metres in 24 successive competitions held by . . . who else? Edwards put a brave face on it afterwards: "I contemplated losing to Christian today because I know he will have been working really hard all winter. But I'm encouraged by how well I jumped in my first competition of the year."
Lewis-Francis, making his first appearance since tearing a hamstring in the Commonwealth 100m final, was also satisfied with a second place performance – he recorded 6.59sec behind Gardener, who won with customary fluency in 6.52. Gardener, hampered by back problems last season, believes he has benefited from a new regime which has seen him train in his home city of Bath alongside Jackson under the coaching of Malcolm Arnold.
"Colin is not going to be hanging around much longer, so I'm going to keep pestering him until I get all the info I feel is necessary for me to improve," he said.
Asked if the selectors would now have a difficult task picking two for the world indoor 60m out of himself, Lewis-Francis and co-European record holder Dwain Chambers, he replied with a wide grin: "Hopefully not." A fit – and confident – Gardener is a fearsome proposition on the indoor boards.
Meanwhile, Gardener's new training partner was getting himself into the right frame of mind to challenge for medals in what will be his final competition next month. Running in an arena where he equalled the 60m hurdles world record with a time of 7.36sec in 1994, Jackson – who will be 35 by the time he contests the world indoors – won with ease in 7.52, the second fastest time run this year.
Gardener was not the only British athlete to have benefited by training with an athlete who had dominated their event – Holmes, who won the first indoor 1500m she had raced in 17 years, has been working in South Africa alongside the world's No 1 at 800m, Maria Mutola of Mozambique.
The women's 60m was won, as expected, by outdoor world champion Zhanna Bloch, who responded afterwards to a question about the recent decision of her rival Marion Jones to accompany her boyfriend, Tim Montgomery, in working with the disgraced coach of Ben Johnson, Charlie Francis.
"I was surprised like everyone else when I heard," she said. "If I'd been in her place I wouldn't have done what she's done. But she must have had a good reason. If I am due to race against her, of course I will meet her."
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