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Athletics: Games target; Athletes are chasing place in Wales team.

Byline: Mark CURRIE

COMMONWEALTH Games qualification is the target for top Welsh athletes at Deeside Stadium tomorrow where the 2002 North Wales championships has attracted a record number of entries.

With more than 200 athletes in attendance meeting organiser Sue Sayer is predicting a high level of competition across all the age groups.

This will be particularly so among the seniors, many of whom have their sights set on winning a place in the Wales team which will go to Manchester in July.

Earlier this week, several of the athletes in action tomorrow were named in the Wales team to compete against the other home nations in next weekend's Aqua Pura International at Loughborough University.

They include Wrexham AC teenagers, all-rounder Rebecca Jones and runner Faye Harding, Lesley Brannan, the Birchfield thrower from Connah's Quay and former Wrexham long jumper, Sally Peake, now with Wirral AC.

Among the men competing at Loughborough are ex-Wrexham decathlete Paul Jones and polevaulter Andy Penk, formerly of Colwyn Bay AC. All of them, with the exception of Penk, will be at Deeside.

Jones, who hopes to compete in the heptathlon for Wales in Manchester, has entered four events, the 100m hurdles, high jump, long jump and shot while Harding, one of the fastest teenagers in the country, runs the 400m hurdles.

An exciting men's long jump is in prospect with the likes of ex-Wrexham duo Ben Roberts and Paul Jones and Bangor's Ioan Hughes all capable ofjumping in excess of 7m and seeking a Commonwealth qualifying distance.

Field event specialist Brannan has entered the hammer, shot and discus and will be pushed all the way by Wrexham's under-20 hope, Laura Douglas, while Peake will be challenging for honours in both long and triple jump.

The meeting also sees a welcome return to top-class athletics for 1500m specialist Steve Henshaw, from Connah's Quay, following a period of inactivity and Stoke AC's Matthew Jones, another ex-Wrexham man, will be going for the 800m title.

The day-long competition gets under way at 10.30am and admission is priced at just pounds 1.

With the Commonwealth Games just seven weeks away, the competitions are coming thick and fast. Following next week's international, the Welsh Championships - which will double as the final Games trials - are being staged in Newport on June 8-9.

And stars from across the Commonwealth will be competing in the Welsh Games in Cardiff on July 8 when teams from Australia, South Africa, England and a host of smaller nations will take on the best of Wales at the Leckwith Stadium.

Athletics Association of Wales chief executive Steve Brace said some of the world's greatest athletes would be in Cardiff.

Olympic 400m gold medallist Cathy Freeman, from Australia, is a potential starter if she can overcome her injury problems, while South Africa, who anticipate 15 top-three placings in Manchester, are sending their full team.

Wales will be represented by 110m hurdles world record holder Colin Jackson, heading a strong line-up that will include medal hopes Christian Malcolm, Iwan Thomas and Tim Benjamin.

Brace said: ``We are delighted to be able to organise a Welsh Games with such high-calibre teams in such an important year. It will give the Welsh athletes an opportunity to compete in Wales in front of a Welsh crowd.

``This is a very important competition. It will be the biggest Welsh Games ever.

``All the nations who are competing in the Commonwealth Games want to send athletes to acclimatise here - and some of the world's greatest athletes will be in Cardiff.''

CAPTION(S):

RAPID RISE: Faye Harding is chasing glory in the 400m hurdles at the Deeside Stadium tomorrow
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:May 11, 2002
Words:606
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