Athletics: Backley declares loyalty to the cause

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The Independent Online
STEVE BACKLEY yesterday dismissed rumours that he would not defend his European Cup javelin title in St Petersburg.

"I'll be competing in Helsinki next week. It's going to be a long hard season and of course there is the European Cup to prepare for," he said.

After throwing 82.79 metres to win the Leeds International, Backley admitted that at one stage he was considering giving the prestigious meeting, where Great Britain are also bidding to retain the team title they won 12 months ago in Munich, a miss.

His decision to pull out of an international contest on the same weekend as the European Cup takes place, has delighted British selectors, but will see the Londoner miss out on a guaranteed appearance fee.

Backley's reasons for trying to earn extra cash are understandable. Like other domestic athletes, last year's world silver medallist missed out on a payday of around pounds 50,000 when the British Athletic Federation went into receivership last October and could not pay fees to competitors who had competed in their domestic promotions.

Initially it is understood Backley would not don a British vest for what would have been his fourth European Cup appearance. But after speaking with manager Andy Norman, family and friends, he has declared his loyalty to his country.

The British head coach, Max Jones, said: "I am delighted to hear the news. I know pressure has been brought on Steve to compete. But we do need him."

However, Jones and his administrators will need no reminding that not only Backley but other leading athletes are feeling the pressure on the hectic international programme, which this year also includes the European Championships, World Cup and Commonwealth Games.

Weather conditions at Leeds were not ideal but, after throwing 87.58m in his first competition of the summer when winning in Soini, Finland, last month, Backley was more than happy with his performance.

"The wind made it very tricky out there and in reality it was more of a training session," Backley said.

Jonathan Edwards was another who likened the meeting to an extended training session. But the world triple jump record holder was pleased with his winning leap of 16.96 metres.