Athletics: EUROPEAN ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIPS 2002: Edwards Foiled as Britain Falls into Bronze Age ; Triple Jumper Loses Crown as Women's 800m Champion Dismisses Holmes' Drug Slur

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BRITAIN SLIPPED off the gold standard at the European Championships last night as Jonathan Edwards endured the novel sensation of losing in a major triple jump competition. It was not one he enjoyed.

But at least the 36-year-old Gateshead Harrier came away with a something from a competition won by Sweden's rising talent Christian Olsson, adding a fourth bronze medal to the ones Britain had collected earlier in the evening through Daniel Caines in the men's 400 metres, Kelly Holmes in the women's 800m and Lee McConnell in the women's 400m.

For his British team-mate Phillips Idowu, who had registered the second- longest qualifying distance in the event's history, 17.54 metres, the night ended in frustration as he struggled with his technique and only 16.92 to finish fifth.

Edwards, who came into this competition with a bruised heel, made a supreme effort with his final attempt and it looked as if it might have been long enough to have earned him a dramatic victory until the judge raised his red flag. The man who came to this event as Olympic, world, Commonwealth and European champion had put his toe a centimetre and a half over the line.

Once the result became clear, the 22-year-old from Gothenburg performed a madly exuberant lap of honour. Without reaching Edwards' best of 17.86 this season, the young Swede consistently showed the sound technique that had eluded Idowu and won with 17.53. The home jumper Charles Friedek, who beat Edwards to the 1999 world title, took silver with 17.33, a centimetre ahead of the Briton.

"I can't believe I jumped so poorly," Edwards said. "If someone had said you are going to jump 17.32 in the Europeans I would have said: `What, do you mean in qualifying?' But this doesn't make any difference to my plans. I won't be making any decision about retiring until the end of the season. I still feel I've got an 18 metres jump in me this season. I'd like to do that because I'd feel that something had got away from me if I don't."

Unlike Edwards, Holmes appeared well satisfied with her bronze after finishing in a season's best of 1min 59.83sec in a race dominated from start to finish by Yolanda Ceplak, the flaxen-haired Slovenian who broke through to notice earlier this year at the age of 25 by denying Austria's Steffi Graf the European indoor title on her home ground of Vienna, setting a world indoor best of 1min 55.82sec in the process.

But Holmes could not resist passing her own comment on the achievement of Ceplak, who won in 1min 57. …