Howe's fight to reach Barcelona

The long jumper is fit after injury problems, and the 2006 champion confident of prospects for retaining his title in Sunday's final.

Andrew Howe soars through the air during the long jump final at the 2006 European Championships in Gothenburg. Howe, who competes for Italy, won the gold medal in that competition, and will today start his title defence in Barcelona after recovering from injury.
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BARCELONA, SPAIN // Rene Felton, mother and coach of Andrew Howe, the European long jump champion, knows only too well what it takes to fight back from illness or injury as her son has been forced to do in recent months. Her promising career in the 100 metre hurdles was disrupted when she contracted Crohn's disease, a potentially fatal gastrointestinal condition.

She was clinically dead on an operating table before mounting a spectacular recovery to shepherd Howe to athletics success with their adopted country, Italy. Howe is returning to major competition to defend his title at this week's European Championships in Barcelona after a painful operation on an Achilles tendon last September. Felton, 50, feels there is no limit to what her son can achieve now that he is nearing full fitness again.

"I died during one operation and they got me back again so if you can come back from the dead you can come back from anything," she said yesterday. "I'm a physical therapist so understanding the nature of his injury and knowing that it didn't interfere with his ability to be a great athlete, I was very grateful for that. "He's been fortunate enough to be cured in a proper way and the sky's the limit for him now."

Howe, 25, whose body is adorned with tattoos and who plays the drums in a rock band, was born in Los Angeles and moved to Europe with his mother at the age of four when she met and married an Italian. Felton said it was the natural thing for him to represent Italy rather than the US. An accomplished sprinter, Howe won the 2004 junior world title in both the long jump and 200m before stepping up a level to win European long jump gold in 2006 and a silver at the World Championships the following year.

Howe said he was feeling in good shape physically and mentally and would be fighting for a medal in Sunday's long jump final. "It's going to be hard absolutely but I'm feeling really good," he said. "Obviously I'm going to fight to get on the podium." Howe said he had stopped playing with his band for about a year while he recovered from his operation where a piece of bone was removed from behind the tendon. "I really wanted to concentrate on getting back in shape," he said.

He has also spent some time recently adding to his collection of tattoos, which he proudly showed off. "This one is a coffin where I put all my enemies and bad things," he said. "In Italy sometimes a coffin brings good luck. It's a pretty weird thing." Howe also explained the significance of a Japanese-style tattoo covering the entire length of his right arm, pointing out a fish, a dragon and a woman who looks like a demon.

Qualifying for the long jump is today, ahead of Sunday's final. * Reuters