Athletics: Gebrselassie and Edwards continue to defy the years

By Mike Rowbottom
Saturday 22 February 2003 01:00
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Two of the world's finest athletes demonstrated the truth of the old dictum that form is temporary but class is permanent here in the National Indoor Arena last night.

Haile Gebrselassie, who seems to have been around for years but is still only 29, collected his third world record on this track in the two miles as he took almost five seconds from the previous mark set by his Ethiopian compatriot, Halyu Mekkonen, with a time of 8min 04.69sec.

Gebrselassie is clearly back at the top of his game in good time for the world indoor championships which take place in the same arena three weeks from now. As is Britain's world and Olympic triple jump champion, Jonathan Edwards, who proved once again that he still has the measure of his young rivals even at 36 as he produced a winning effort of 17.44 metres, the furthest in the world this year.

Earlier this week in Stockholm, the 23-year-old Swede who beat Edwards to the European title last year, Christian Olsson, had produced a winning effort of 17.40m and predicted even better to come at last night's Norwich Union Grand Prix. But after the Swede had produced an opening effort of 16.60, Edwards pulverised the competition with his first effort, which turned out to be the only jump he required.

"I felt very relaxed on the first jump and it showed,'' Edwards said. "I think the warm up-atmosphere in here was part of it, and I have also been enjoying myself with a nice break. I'm off home for the weekend with my boys and then back to work on Monday for some preparations for the world indoor championships. I am really looking forward to it.''

Gebrselassie is also looking forward to an event where he will contest the 3,000 metres as part of a longer campaign to reclaim his world outdoor 10,000m title in Paris. Gebrselassie admitted that after losing his world title two years ago in what was his first race following a knee operation, he had wondered to himself: "Maybe I am a little bit old.'' But last night's performance, enthusiastically greeted by a flag-waving section of 200 members of his fan club, indicated that there is plenty of life left in those powerful legs. Asked if he now felt in the kind of form to lower his own world 10,000m record, he said with a grin: "That's what I am thinking now.''

The final action of the night produced a second world record as the Russian pole vaulter Svetlana Feofanova added a centimetre to the mark of 4.76m she achieved earlier this month in Glasgow. Two British appearances, and two world records. This 22-year-old is likely to be asked back.

There was also a winning performance from a Briton who has endured over the years, Colin Jackson. The Welshman won the 60m hurdles in 7.51sec, his best of the season, and looks set to end his career here next month with a serious challenge for another world indoor title.

Britain's Jason Gardener will also be looking forward with confidence to the world indoors after winning the 60m in 6.49sec, his fastest time of the year. Gardener still has officially to claim one of the two 60m places at next weekend's world championship trails on this track, but that looks a formality barring accident or injury.

Who will claim the second spot remains in more doubt following a disappointing first outing for Britain's European outdoor champion, Dwain Chambers, who failed to reach the final. Chambers could manage only sixth place in his heat in a time of 6.68. Although he finished with a grimace on his face, he confirmed afterwards that his discomfort was due to rustiness rather than injury.

Chambers will need to improve dramatically next weekend if he is to claim a place ahead of Mark Lewis-Francis, who was third behind Gardener after running a season's best of 6.57 in a heat.

Elsewhere, Daniel Caines improved his hopes of retaining the world indoor 400m title on his home track by winning in 45.76, the world's fastest this year. There were mixed fortunes for Britain's middle distance runners Jo Fenn and Kelly Holmes as they sought to achieve national records at 1,000m and 1,500m respectively. Fenn finished in 2min 38.45sec, which was 0.5sec inside Kirsty Wade's 16-year-old record, but Holmes could manage only seventh place in the 1,500m.

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