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Athletics: Gunnell disciple faces a hurdle

ALLISON Curbishley has encountered a troublesome hurdle in her quest to follow Sally Gunnell's golden spikemarks. A knee injury has forced the Teesside athlete to postpone indefinitely her planned move from 400m flat racing to 400m hurdling. "I'm pain free when I run on the flat but it's aggravated by hurdling," Curbishley said. "I'll have to push back my switch for as long as it takes to clear - the end of the season or maybe not until next year."

Curbishley had been expected to challenge for a major championship medal as a 400m hurdler this summer, at the European Championships in Budapest in August or at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in September. It was as a flat 400m runner that she made her mark last year, capturing the World Student Games and European Under-23 titles and reaching the semi- finals of the World Championships. But she has long been regarded as the natural successor to Gunnell as the great British 400m hurdler.

At 22, time remains stacked on her side. She already boasts a faster time for the barrier-free 400m than Gunnell managed and the early signs suggest she will improve her Scottish record from 50.78 sec before summer is out, having clocked 50.97 in Milan on Friday. Today she plans to test her speed over 200m in Dortmund. Colin Jackson and Ian Mackie are also due to compete in Germany, though organisers of the Leeds International match have succeeded in attracting an impressive array of British lights.

Iwan Thomas runs his first 400m of the summer, hoping to secure selection for the European Cup in St Petersburg on 27-28 June. With Roger Black due to open his farewell season in Bratislava on Tuesday and Mark Richardson having already clocked 45.17sec, the British record-holder acknowledged: "I'll need to get in a good one." The meeting got in two particularly good ones last year, Kelly Holmes (1,000m) and Janine Whitlock (pole vault), putting the event and South Leeds Stadium on the map with British record performances.

Whitlock, who has raised her record from 4.03m to 4.31m, is due to return. The triple jump world record holder Jonathan Edwards opens his outdoor season while Steve Backley contests the first domestic event of a summer in which he defends his European and Commonwealth javelin titles.