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Fredericks, Jackson discuss retirement plans

Fredericks and Jackson announce retirement plans
Steven Downes reports for the IAAF
MAEBASHI, Japan (March 7)JUST AS Colin Jackson did on Friday, Frank Fredericks, another thirty-something sprinter with something to prove, added a golden hue to the autumn of his career here on Saturday by producing the second fastest 200 metres ever seen indoors and so taking the world title.

Thus ended a frustrating sequence of eight silver medals at Olympic Games and World Championships which had seen Fredericks labelled the nearly man of international track. Truth is, of course, that Fredericks is one of the finest sprinters ever to measure out a set of starting blocks, but he has had as his misfortune to have been competing at the same time as a crop of other outstanding sprinters, from Carl Lewis and Linford Christie to Michael Johnson.

Here, Fredericks had that little bit of luck that had previously eluded his quest for gold medals. Drawn in the sixth, outside lane on the sweeping curves of the Maebashi Green Dome's indoor track, Fredericks produced another awesome sprinting display, and no one could catch him.

Indeed, as Fredericks came off the final bend it appeared that the staggered start had perhaps not worked. Obadele Thompson, the Barbadian drawn in lane five, having chased after Fredericks for 170 metres, was no closer to his rival than when the starter's gun had fired. Once Fredericks stopped the automatic clock at 20.10sec, it was clear how the Namibian had created this optical illusion: no one has ever run faster before apart from Fredericks himself, three years ago, on the notoriously speedy track at Lievin when he set the world indoor best at 19.92.

Thompson crossed the line in 20.26sec to go third on the all-time list, but only took Fredericks's usual place on the medal podium.

"I got what I came here for, the gold medal," Fredericks said. "I plan to retire soon, and I want to collect as many titles as possible." Coupled with his sense of achievement, though, will have been a sense of relief.

It is an emotion which Colin Jackson knows well. It is nearly six years since an awesome day in Stuttgart when the two sprinters both claimed gold medals within a short period at the IAAF's fourth outdoor World Championships, Fredericks winning at 200, Jackson with a world record at 110 metres hurdles which still stands today.

Both men have been such fixtures in top-class international athletics for so long - Jackson got his first international championship medal 14 years ago - it seems odd to contemplate the sport without them. But asked how he intends to approach the Sydney Olympics next year, Fredericks said, "I have no plans beyond this year. I am only thinking about Seville", and the IAAF World Championships.

Jackson is clear he will retire after next year's Olympics, regardless of whether he wins the only major honour still to elude him, now that he has won the world indoor title following three silver medals.

"I've been running in the top flight since I was 19," Jackson said. "To carry on into your 30s is a long, long time. It's hard, hard on your mind and your body." Five operations ("You can't imagine how painful my knees were sometimes") and the demands of his event had left his body creaking on the morning after his race, prior to a weight training session. Champions rarely get to rest.

"Athletics has given me a great life, and it's given me the opportunity to fulfil my dreams, but I think you need to get to the pinnacle of your career, and then move on to something completely different." Jackson still harbours ambitions, but now they lie in the direction of screenplays (he has a script in development) and film production. "Sport itself is part of the entertainment industry. I want to stay in the same field, but go in a different direction." He has given his backing to a new project, 'Minimum', "a sort of Trainspotting based in Cardiff", according to Jackson, which began filming last month.

Today, Jackson flies to America, for a week's holiday where Britain's newest world champion will meet up with its defending heavyweight boxing world champion, Lennox Lewis, an old friend, ahead of next Saturday's title unifier against Evander Holyfield.

Jackson first met Lewis at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. "I was there when he got in a fight with BJ," he says, referring to Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, before his Seoul disgrace. "BJ, having the ego of a sprinter, was having a go, and Lennox just said to him, 'What's it all about, I could break you in three pieces if I wanted'."

As Jackson showed when beating Reggie Torian on Friday, like boxing, sprint hurdling is often a one-on-one battle. It may not be quite as bruising, but it is one where no quarter can be given. Will Lewis win next week? "He's got to," said Jackson, with the air of a champion who has also tasted defeat.