Athletics: Hamstrung McColgan misses Stuttgart trip: Strains and stresses take their toll on Britain's finest as they prepare for a world test. Mike Rowbottom reports

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LIZ McCOLGAN, Britain's only world champion, will not defend her 10,000 metres title in Stuttgart next month because of a persistent hamstring injury.

The news which many had half-expected given McColgan's disappointing performances this year was confirmed yesterday as Britain's selectors named their team for the World Championships, which start on 14 August.

After performing below expectation in the World Cross-Country Championships and the London Marathon, McColgan withdrew from the European Cup team in June at the last minute with the hamstring injury which has since failed to improve.

It is the first significant injury of her career, and stems from the moment when she stepped into a pothole just after half-way through the Tokyo Marathon last November. On that occasion, she carried on to win. 'I know that I could never run such a bad marathon again,' she said afterwards. 'Nothing could be so painful.'

Sadly for McColgan, the pain has been more drawn out than she could have realised at the time. The Tokyo incident left her with scar tissue on the hamstring, and it flared up into a problem again while she was training for the European Cup.

'It's unfortunate, but this will wreck my career if I don't get it sorted out now,' she said. 'I'd hate to be in the situation where I say I'm not going to Stuttgart, and then in three weeks' time be running great again. but if I'm forced to make a decision today I have to say no because I can't afford to gamble.

'I haven't run since I had a second opinion from the doctor last Monday, and I'm not in any hurry to start running again. I'm not going to run for at least another three weeks.'

That will represent the longest break McColgan has had since taking just 26 days off in 1991 when she had her daughter, Eilish. She is receiving regular ultrasound treatment at Dundee United and running in water at a local pool.

She dismisses rumours that her career might be at an end. 'If it really was over I'd just run as much as I could to collect the money,' she said. 'I've stopped because I have still got things I want to achieve. I'm looking for another seven years at the top, and I have set myself new goals. I want to be back in shape for the Great North Run and then win the World Cross- Country Championships.'

Although past experience has made the selectors wary about picking athletes who were not fully fit, there are so many top performers other than McColgan suffering from stress-related injuries and illnesses that their team has almost a provisional look.

Many of those named - for instance, Curtis Robb, Eamonn Martin, Roger Black, David Grindley, Katharine Merry and Mick Hill - will need to demonstrate their fitness in the next two weeks.

The names of Steve Backley and Steve Cram do not appear, but Britain's chief of coaching, Frank Dick, emphasised that the door was still open for them. He expects seven more men and three women to be added to the team before the 4 August midnight deadline for entries.

Backley, with a shoulder injury which has kept him out of action since the Olympics, seems unlikely to recover in time.

Cram, who laboured to fourth place in Saturday's 1500m final at the combined Panasonic AAA Championships and world championship trials, is still looking for the qualifying time of 3min 36.50sec. If he runs again like he did in Birmingham, he can forget it. If he runs like he did a week earlier in Oslo, when he was third in the Dream Mile in 3min 52sec - a time which converts approximately to a 3.34 1500m - he will be back in business.

The key thing will be how he feels. 'I'm pretty sure I can run 3.36.5 in good conditions,' he said. 'But if you go out and scrape the qualifying time then you are kidding yourself really.' Although Matthew Yates, the 1500m winner, is named in the team, he is in the same position as Cram in needing the qualifying time, which he will seek at the London Grand Prix this Friday. Kevin McKay, the only Briton with that time, has been struggling to recover from a viral infection, but his coach, Norman Poole, has written to Dick requesting that he should not be overlooked.

'We will be taking no walking wounded to Stuttgart,' Dick insisted. 'But we're having to deal with a whole new ball game because, for the first time, we're seeing the ravages of a post-Olympic year which has placed such severe demands on athletes.'

Dick, worried that so many British athletes are facing burn-out from their overcrowded schedule, is to urge the Federation to talk to the European and IAAF hierarchy about reviewing the whole major championship structure.

Olympic champions and team captains Linford Christie and Sally Gunnell do not have such worries. Christie, despite his misjudgement in Saturday's 200m which saw him eliminated in the heats, will double up in the Stuttgart sprints as expected, while Gunnell will start as favourite in the 400m hurdles after winning a record seventh AAA 100m title in 13.08sec, faster than she ran at this stage last season.

Dick believes the injuries mean Britain could have fewer than 20 finalists in Stuttgart - fewer than in Tokyo - but estimates that a team which boasts six individual European champions could pick up a possible 10 medals, compared to the seven won in Japan.

Among those who will be experiencing this level of competition for the first time are Gary Cadogan, who earned a place in Stuttgart in what was only his sixth major 400m hurdles race, and Martin Steele, the fastest man in the world over 800m this year.

(Photograph omitted)

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