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Wednesday, 31 July, 2002, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Hansen seeking golden salvation
When Ashia Hansen won Commonwealth triple jump gold in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, she seemed set for a period of prolonged success to complement that of Jonathan Edwards in the men's event.
Four years further on, Edwards has Olympic and world titles and is acknowledged as the greatest triple jumper the world has seen.
Hansen, by contrast, is still hunting her second major outdoor title. At 31 years old, she has more time on her side than Edwards, but this is a critical stage in her career.
Why has she failed to build on the success of 1998?
Partly it is a familiar tale of injury woe.
At last summer's World Championships she finished a lowly seventh, a full metre down on her best, having missed a large part of the outdoor season with Achilles problems.
Her Olympics in Sydney were wrecked by the same injury. Desperately short of competition, she managed just one legal jump in the final and never looked like getting amongst the medals.
"I was over-training and had all the symptoms associated with that," she says. "I was always tired, I was depressed and I was picking up niggles.
"A good athlete would go to the physio and get treatment for those little niggles, but I didn't bother, and I paid the price.
"It's over four years since I set my personal best. But I'm in much better shape than I was then.
"I'm injury-free and I'm much lighter. If I didn't think I could be the best in the world, I wouldn't be bothering to compete."
There was also the small matter of a well-publicised court case, which ended with her ex-boyfriend jailed for two years after staging a bogus race-hate attack on himself.
Hansen herself was the focus of several embarrassing revelations in the tabloid press - not something which the clean-cut Edwards has had to cope with.
She says those problems are now behind her, that she has emerged stronger mentally as well as physically from the strife of the recent past.
In Manchester she starts as favourite to retain her title.
The men's triple jump was an epic contest between Edwards and his young rival Philips Idowu. Hansen's task should be somewhat easier.
"I don't want to sound big-headed, but none of my major rivals will be at the Commonwealths," she says.
"There's only one girl who can jump in the 14.70m range, whereas the European Championships the week after will be much, much tougher. In terms of the calibre of athlete who'll be there, it's on par with the Olympics for me.
"After all the problems I've had, this is a huge season for me. I won't be holding anything back."
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