Athletics: Olsson set to offer Edwards a flavour of challenge ahead

By Mike Rowbottom
Saturday 01 February 2003 01:00
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Since last season, Jonathan Edwards has been developing a new career as a presenter of religious TV programmes, but his first career as the world's finest triple jumper is still in existence, as he will seek to demonstrate once again tomorrow when he takes part in the Norwich Union International at Glasgow's Kelvin Hall.

At 36, Edwards still has plans to defend his Olympic title in Athens in 2004, although the man who describes himself as "a competitive animal" is reserving the right to withdraw from that final challenge if he finds he is unable to do himself justice. "If I jump badly this summer and all the younger guys start beating me, then I'd have no interest in carrying on," he said. "But if I'm in the mix... I'll go on to Athens."

But Edwards' aspirations will receive a rigorous test in Glasgow as he takes on the 23-year-old Swede who beat him to the European title in Munich last August, Christian Olsson.

There is no doubt in Olsson's mind that he wants the Briton to continue an international career that stretches back 15 years. "I need Jonathan there for one more year and I'll have to develop a little to dethrone him," said the man who trailed Edwards 5-4 in head-to-head competitions last year.

For his part, Edwards, who intends to compete in next month's World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, is approaching what might be his penultimate season in a relaxed frame of mind.

"The competition this weekend is about getting my athletics head on," he said. "For the last three months athletics has become almost a hobby again, but, bizarrely, I'm in good shape. I'm in a wonderful position – I've nothing to lose, I've nothing to prove any more and the expectation's off. I've achieved my goals so I'm totally relaxed, but that's not to say I won't be trying as hard as I can to win when the competition starts."

Got that clearly, Christian? This Christian doesn't have to prove anything, but he probably will. One imagines it will be the mental space that Olsson will most value when Edwards finally calls it a day.

The meeting will be a memorable one for Colin Jackson no matter how he gets on over the 60m hurdles against a strong field that includes the European indoor silver medallist Elmar Lichtenegger, of Germany, and Sweden's Olympic finalist, Robert Kronberg.

The 35-year-old Welshman, who plans to retire next month, will win his 70th international vest on Sunday, which will make him the most capped male British athlete ever, taking him past the total he shares with the pole-vaulter and decathlete Mike Bull, whose Great Britain career stretched between 1965 and 1977.

"Competing for my country, whether Great Britain or Wales, has always meant an awful lot to me,'' Jackson said. "To have done that more than any other male athlete is a real honour, a really nice way to kick-off my final season in the sport."

Jackson has happy memories of Scotland, having won his first major championship medal at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games in 1986 and recorded a world record 60m hurdles time at Kelvin Hall eight years later.

Jackson plans to make his farewell appearance on 16 March in the 60m final at the World Indoor Championships. The world record holder's place looks safe for that event, injury permitting, but the same cannot be said for Jason Gardener, despite the fact that he is the European indoor champion at that distance. With only two 60m places available in Britain's team for Birmingham, competition is intense, and Gardener needs to make a good impression tomorrow when he lines up against Mark Lewis-Francis, who makes his first major appearance since pulling up half-way through the 100m final at the Manchester Commonwealth Games.

Gardener showed world-class form last night with victory in the 60m in 6.52 seconds at an indoor meeting in Erfurt, Germany.

The two-times European indoor 60m champion finished nearly a metre ahead of Jamaica's Donovan Powell (6.57sec) with Eric Nkansah, of Ghana, third in 6.65sec.

Jackson, meanwhile, was involved in a thrilling 60m hurdles race against Maurice Wignall. The timekeepers could not separate the world record holder and the Jamaican after the pair crossed the line shoulder-to-shoulder in 7.58sec. Elmar Lichtenegger, of Austria, was third.

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