07 FEB 2004 General News Sheffield, UK

Gardener gets faster - 6.49

Jason Gardener leads the 60m field in Sheffield (Getty Images)Jason Gardener leads the 60m field in Sheffield (Getty Images) © Copyright

Britain’s Jason Gardener made himself a firm favourite for the World Indoor 60m crown when he produced his fourth blistering performance in two weeks at the Norwich Union World Trials and AAA championships (Day one) in Sheffield this afternoon.

A World bronze medallist both in 1999 and from Birmingham a year ago, Gardener dominated every round of the men’s 60m and clocked a world leading 6.49 to win the final by a gaping margin. After victories in Glasgow and Germany, the Bath Bullet’s deadly form in Sheffield suggests he’ll be a tough man to beat when the quickest sprinters in the world gather in Budapest in a month’s time for the World Indoor Championships (5 - 7 March).

“I have been running some very good times and I didn’t want the standard to drop today,” said Gardener, who’s now looking forward with cautious optimism to his Hungarian challenge. “I’ve won a couple of bronze medals in the past and I’m training hard now for gold. I’m enjoying every day of my athletics right now, but I know that things can go wrong very easily with little niggling injuries and so on, so I’m not taking anything for granted.”

Gardener had earlier cruised through the semi-final in a smooth 6.51, only a hundredth outside his previous world best set last week in Germany. “It would have been very easy for me to be over confident but I was careful not to let that happen,” he said after the final.

The AAAs title is Gardener’s fourth indoors, equalling the record for 60m set by Bob Frith in the 1960s. Indeed, he has gained something of a reputation as an indoor specialist, having won two European Indoor titles as well as two World bronze medals in the last five years. With four weeks to go before Budapest, he will have three more races, including the European Cup and Grand Prix meetings in Leipzig and Birmingham, to hone his preparations in pursuit of a first world title.

May back in impressive form

Gardener was only one of a clutch of athletes who made a point of praising the brand new venue in Sheffield – the English Institute of Sport centre. Among others to do so was Italy’s British-born long jumper Fiona May, who left to compete for Italy ten years ago if facilities.

“I wish it had been here before I moved to Italy,” May said. “It’s good for the future of British athletics.”

May was competing on British soil for the first time in four years, and duly reminded UK long jumping what it has been missing over the last decade. The two-times World champion, who was up against her 23 year-old sister, Natasha, among others, twice broke the championship's record in Sheffield during a highly impressive series. All six of her jumps were further than any of her competitors’ efforts, and all but one exceeded 6.50m.

The 34 year-old opened with a championships record 6.61m and followed that with 6.48m, 6.59m, 6.68m, 6.55m and 6.63m – and all while “not feeling great” after taking a course of antibiotics to relieve toothache. Sarah Claxton was second with a personal best 6.31m, while the younger May, inspired by her 11 years senior sister, produced her own best ever jump of 6.08m, good enough for fifth place.

“It’s pretty strange to be back here competing,” said May. “It’s been 10 years since I kind of ran away. I felt a bit strange competing against my sister too. I was more concerned with how she jumped then myself but it was a nice experience. I am happy that she did so well. It may be the first time we have competed but I’m sure it won’t be the last.”

Of her own performance she said: “There really wasn’t anyone pushing me today in the competition, but when I’m competing against the top athletes, I believe I could achieve around 6.80m.”

Kelly Holmes should be unchallenged

The championships are the first track and field event to be held at the new venue, and a sell-out crowd of 2000 was treated to performances by some of Britain’s leading athletes, a number attracted by the organisers’ financial incentives. While no prize money is awarded at the trials, UK Athletics had warned Britain’s elite that they could lose up to 25 per cent of their earnings from other televised UK indoor meetings this season if they did not show at the trials.

Among those who made the trip was Kelly Holmes. The World outdoor 800m silver medallist eased through her semi-final this afternoon in a pedestrian 2:11.44 and should add another British title to her long list virtually unchallenged tomorrow.

Holmes, who will return to Spain to train with Maria Mutola on Monday, still plans to run the 1500m in Budapest and, if all goes to plan, at the Olympics in Athens.

In the men’s 1500m here, Commonwealth champion Michael East’s route to victory was eased when his event was reduced from two rounds to a straight final. East won at a canter in 3:44.93, while Joice Maduaka produced her best form of the year to win the women’s 60m in 7.33.

The former European 400m champion Du’aine Ladejo did not have such a good day, however. He pulled out of his heat after one lap with niggling right hamstring trouble. Former World Indoor champion Jamie Baulch could take advantage tomorrow and add another British title to his tally. The Welshman clocked 47.13 in the 400m semi-finals.

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