Athletics: Elliott's golden opportunity gone

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The Independent Online
PETER ELLIOTT, whose announcement on Saturday that he would not be fit to run in the Olympic Games was sadly predictable, has a theory that he is only 26, at least in athletics terms, having lost three years of his career to injury.

By that reckoning, he could look forward to another five years or so at the top. But at the age of 29, his road-worthiness at 1500 metres is open to question; it does not matter how many miles there are on the clock if the wheels keep coming off.

Elliott has been advised that last week's recurrence of the knee and hamstring injury which has prevented him racing for a month may originate in a back problem. He has thus been obliged to accept that the deadline of 21 July which he was given to prove 'competitive fitness' to the selectors cannot be met.

While there are hopes that he may recover in time to compete in grand prix meetings after the Olympics, which would be something of a bittersweet achievement, his failure to be ready for successive major events - he scratched from last year's world championships at short notice because of an Achilles tendon injury - does not bode well.

The worst of it for Elliott is that, with the world champion Noureddine Morceli hampered with a hip injury, there has been a worldwide levelling off in the standard of his event, an indication of which came just over a week ago in the Oslo Dream Mile, traditionally the gathering place for the world's leading 1500m runners. David Kibet's winning time of 3min 52.32sec was the slowest the event has seen - a world away from Elliott's winning time of 3:49.46 in 1991.

'It will be so wide open in Barcelona that I would have been a contender for gold,' said Elliott, who took the silver at the last Games in Seoul despite carrying a groin injury which it took him the best part of the following year to recover from. 'I beat Gennaro Di Napoli in a road race earlier this year and now it looks as though he will be favourite.'

Elliott, meanwhile, will watch the greatest show on earth on his television back home in Rotherham, a couple of miles down the road from the track where he last raced. Had he not been competing in front of his own people in what was billed as a Peter Elliott Evening, he might have pulled up when his knee went into spasm on the last lap. Maybe he now regrets the selfless instinct which told him not to let the people down; but Elliott being Elliott, he could probably never have done differently.

Not for nothing has Elliott's catchphrase been 'It always seems to happen to me'. Before his disappointment in Tokyo, his chances of winning the European Championship in Split were disrupted when he was brought down in the heats and controversially reinstated in the final. The suggestion from some other athletes that he did not merit his place put him in a no- win situation.

At the 1988 Olympics, as well as having to cope with his injury, he had to deal with being depicted in the press as a carthorse in comparison with the thoroughbred Seb Coe, who was not selected to try for a third 1500m gold. Four years earlier Elliott had to pull out before the Olympic semi-final because of a stress fracture. As far as Elliott is concerned, luck is a four-letter word.

Steve Crabb, the reserve, will now take Elliott's place alongside the Olympic trial winner, Kevin McKay. But if the third nominated runner, Matthew Yates, fails to complete his recovery from a recent viral infection, no other runner will be called up - a sorry reflection of the state of the event in Britain. Yates, who finished last in the 800m B race at Crystal Palace on Friday, plans to run today in Salamanca and in Nice on Wednesday.