The United States' traditional domination of the World Indoor 60 metres event was maintained here yesterday by their 21-year-old champion, Justin Gatlin, who proved too swift for the British sprinters who came to the line amid a rising sense of expectation in the National Indoor Arena.
For Jason Gardener, the fastest qualifier, there was the consolation of another bronze to add to the one he won four years ago in Maebashi, Japan but there was to be no glorious homecoming for the 20-year-old born less than a mile down the road, Mark Lewis-Francis, who cut a disconsolate figure after having to settle for fourth place in 6.57sec. To make matters worse for Lewis-Francis, he had to abandon a lap of honour undertaken in the mistaken belief that he had finished third.
Gatlin, making his first appearance in Europe, finished well clear in 6.46 to secure the United States' fifth victory in this event in the nine times it has been run. After making an excellent start, he finished ahead of Commonwealth champion Kim Collins, of Saint Kitts and Nevis, who clocked 6.53, and Gardener – who regarded the whole experience as a massive bonus given the hamstring injury which had prevented him training for a fortnight – in 6.55.
Gatlin was suspended for two years in 2001 after testing positive for amphetamines, but received early reinstatement in July last year after it was accepted that the substance was a prescribed medication to treat Attention Deficit Disorder.
Gardener, who topped this season's British rankings with 6.49 before succumbing to his hamstring problem, was quietly thrilled at his performance. "I am absolutely stunned how I managed to run those two times in the final and semi-final because things haven't been good," he said. "Warming up before the heats I wasn't sure whether I would be able to participate. It was a case of taking one thing at a time and getting through the warm-up and then the first run before I thought of anything else."
By contrast, Lewis-Francis – who earned a bronze two years ago in a world junior record time of 6.51 – looked thoroughly deflated. "I expected to come here and get a medal but it didn't happen for me," he said. "I just hope I will do better in the outdoor season."
The finalists' task was made easier by the absence of Gatlin's colleague Terrance Trammell, who had arrived here with the intention of becoming the first man to win titles at 60m flat and hurdles. The first of those ambitions disappeared when the 24-year-old Atlanta athlete slowed to fifth in his 60m heat with a hamstring problem. His prospects of defending the high hurdles title he won two years ago in Lisbon also seem to have vanished. Trammell has still not officially withdrawn but the circumstances look encouraging for Britain's Colin Jackson as he seeks to end his 17-year international career on the podium.
Daniel Caines has said that he will not give up his world indoor 400m title without a fight, and he had to be as good as his word in a boisterous opening heat which left him bloodied but victorious against the winner of the US trials, Tyree Washington. After finishing in 45.85, faster than his winning time in 2001, the 23-year-old from Solihull said he intended to make an official complaint against the American, who barged into him on two occasions, spiking his hand in the process.
"He cut me up twice,'' said Caines, who earned a roar of acclaim as he passed his rival on the outside in the final straight. "The first one I can accept, but the second one I can't. I am disappointed in him. He knows what he's done.''
Washington resisted the local athlete's efforts to pass him as the runners broke from their lanes, and then cut across Caines – who finished with blood smeared across his shirt – on the back straight. But the champion, who runs a semi-final today, remains confident that he can earn another gold. "I'd like to think so,'' he said. "I'm running well and I'm not going to let anyone take anything from me.'' Clearly.
The Second City's third serious contender here, Ashia Hansen, will approach today's triple jump final as much in hope as expectation after qualifying despite an increasingly troublesome heel injury.
The good news for the 31-year-old European and Commonwealth champion was that she only required one effort to register 14.61m, the best jump of the day. But it nevertheless proved to be an awkward exercise for the world indoor record holder, who feels in good enough shape to be jumping 15m. Although Hansen had an injection which numbed her heel, she suffered pain in her Achilles tendon. "I had to hold back because I wasn't able to push off properly,'' she said. "I had to rely on my speed and power, I'm frustrated because I am not able to do what I am capable of.''
Hansen's coach, Aston Moore, says the plan for today is to produce a big early jump to pressurise a strong field which includes the Cameroon athlete Françoise Mbango, who she beat to the Commonwealth Gold with her last jump. "We didn't expect the Achilles to hurt as much as it did, although I am confident Ashia will compete in the final,'' Moore said. "But when jumpers get to a final they become different animals, so Ashia has to be as good as she was today, and probably better.''
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