Athletics: Athletes need more cash says Radcliffe

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NOBODY WAS thrown into the water jump this time. For the first occasion in 10 years, Britain's men failed to make a splash at the European Cup, while the women's sinking feeling was relieved only by a buoyant display from their captain, Paula Radcliffe.

A bit more spring in the Paris results would no doubt have shifted a lot more tickets for next weekend's meeting in Gateshead. But to draw any profound conclusions about British athletics from the weekend's events in the Charlety Stadium would be wrong.

"It's our job now to make sure that this doesn't have an adverse effect on the rest of the season," said Dave Moorcroft, the UK Athletics chief executive, who was harsh in his criticism of Britain's display, particularly the third placing of the men, 25 points behind Germany, which was their worst performance since 1987.

Britain's men followed that indifferent result by taking the Cup at the next time of asking on the home ground of Gateshead. Max Jones, Britain's chief coach, maintained on Sunday night that history would repeat itself when next year's final returns to the same venue. "With home advantage I'm sure we'll do the business," said Jones.

The main reason for the men's relative failure was a simple one - too many first choice competitors were missing. That problem was exacerbated, however, by disappointing performances from some of those who were expected to win, such as Jonathan Edwards and Julian Golding. Exactly how the news of the sudden death of 21- year-old Scottish hurdler Ross Baillie affected the team's performance was debatable.

Radcliffe said that a number of the competitors, particularly the younger ones, had been badly affected after hearing the news on Friday morning.

Jones, though, said there was no way of quantifying the effect, adding that some athletes may have been encouraged to do better in the hurdler's memory.

Another, more pertinent debate went on within the British camp, raised by Radcliffe, who was in a forthright mood after recording the world's fastest 5,000 metres time of this year, 14min 48.79sec.

The Bedford runner made out a case for those competing at the European Cup to receive better financial support for doing so. She pointed to the incentive schemes being operated by rivals such as Greece, Italy and France, who pay the likes of Marie-Jo Perec and Christine Arron pounds 50,000 a year to compete for France when required.

"These athletes don't have to worry about earning money on the grand prix circuit," Radcliffe said. Commenting on the absence in Paris of Kelly Holmes, who makes her season debut at Gateshead next Sunday, Radcliffe said: "We could have done with her here. It is disappointing that she isn't. But I'm not having a go at her because she's been out injured for a long time, and she has to earn money somehow, because athletics is her living.

"It becomes a vicious circle. But if the country doesn't support Kelly, why should she support the country? I think this is something the federation should have a look at." Jones, however, maintained that Britain's elite athletes received numerous forms of support, including grants for their coaches, travel costs and medical treatment, even though he accepted they were means tested out of benefiting directly from National Lottery money.

"This is the only competition where we expect our top athletes to come and put on a tracksuit and compete for their country," he said. "Getting athletes to compete in major individual championships is never the problem for us. We have been judged here on points, but when it comes to the World Championships in August, we will be judged on medals."

There is no need to suppose that Britain's World Championship prospects will be adversely affected by the weekend events in Paris.

Of our medal contenders, Dwain Chambers and Mark Richardson won to order at 100 and 400 metres respectively. Jonathan Edwards put his own relatively poor performance down to being a blip. He is fit. He felt good in warm- up. He jumped badly.

The 33-year-old triple jump world record holder described it as: "One of those mysteries that athletics turns up every now and again." But if the medals come in Seville, no one will worry about what happened in Paris.

The Scottish Championships will go ahead at Scotstoun at the weekend without a men's 110m hurdles race, as a mark of respect to Ross Baillie. At 11.50, the time the heats were to have been held, a minute's silence will be observed instead.