Europe's Old Faces Likely to Star in Helsinki

HELSINKI -- Helsinki's fanatical athletics fans, who were present when stars Carl Lewis, Sergei Bubka and Heike Drechsler exploded onto the world stage a decade ago, are unlikely to witness the arrival of too many fresh-faced winners at the European championships.

The veteran stars of track and field, led by Britain's Olympic sprint champion Linford Christie and the evergreen Drechsler, look determined to keep any up-and-coming youngsters away from their titles at the event starting Sunday.

Eight-time Olympic champion Lewis, Ukraine's pole vault world record-holder Bubka and Germany's Olympic long-jump champion Drechsler burst onto the scene in their teens and early 20s at the inaugural world championships in the Finnish capital in 1983.

Although next week's European championships will have a completely different look after the major political changes across the continent since the last event four years ago, the top of the podium could have a strong sense of d?j? vu.

Although he is 34, Christie looks a safe bet to defend his 100 meters title despite a hamstring injury which has kept him out of competition since the middle of July.

With Christie nearing the end of his career, Europe would benefit from a new sprinter who could take on 100-meter record-holder Leroy Burrell and his mighty American sprint teammates at next year's world championships and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

But Christie seemed as keen as a raw teenager as he trained for the championships in Monaco in the week before the championships.

"I'm fine," he said as watched his teammates perform at Tuesday's grand prix meeting in Monte Carlo. "I'll see you in Helsinki."

The 1990 European championships in Split in the former Yugoslavia seem decades away as the continent's leading stars prepare to battle again.

Then, the former East Germany topped the medals table with 12 golds and the championships were remembered for the performances of a 20-year-old blonde, svelte sprinter from their ranks called Katrin Krabbe.

Now, after the dismantling of the former Soviet Union, East Germany and Yugoslavia, none of the expanded number of 44 countries in Helsinki can expect to enjoy the same dominance as the old Communist East Germany.

Former golden girl Krabbe, who went on to repeat the 100 and 200 meters double at the 1991 world championships, has fallen from grace after being caught cheating with drugs.

Krabbe, who has been earning her living teaching overweight housewives to keep fit, faces a huge task to make a comeback when her doping ban ends in August 1995.

Her sprint titles are unlikely to go to another unknown youngster, however.

Russian mother Irina Privalova, 25, the Olympic 100-meter bronze medalist and European record-holder, has a superb chance of repeating Krabbe's feat of winning the 100 and 200 meters as well as adding gold in the 4x100 meters relay.

Compared to the 34 medals won by East Germany alone four years ago, the united German team come to Finland estimating they can only win between 10 and 15. The Germans are also relying on the old names to pick up titles.

Drechsler, 29, who was the youngest gold medalist at the 1983 world event when she was just 18, heads their challenge. Olympic high-jump champion Heike Henkel, 30, is also back defending her title after giving birth to her first child earlier this year.

Britain, which was second in the medals table ahead of the former Soviet Union last time, is likely to be among the top nations again with world high hurdles champion Colin Jackson, 400-meter star Roger Black and European 200-meter champion John Regis all in an excellent position to defend their titles.

If Black fails, a new name could come from the British ranks in 23-year-old European 400 indoor champion Du'aine Ladejo. He would be an exception to the expected rule.