Baulch pips Black for the spare place

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Britain's selectors yesterday shut the door on their Olympic 400 metres silver medallist and team captain, Roger Black, as they awarded the third individual place at next month's World Championships to Jamie Baulch.

The 23-year-old Welshman, who finished third behind the new British record holder, Iwan Thomas, and Mark Richardson in Sunday's world trials, left Birmingham hoping his time of 45.02sec would be sufficient to get the trip to Athens.

A British Athletic Federation insider confirmed yesterday that the selectors agreed with him, a decision which is due to be announced today.

Black, 31, has been out of action with a virus infection since a disappointing run in the British Grand Prix on June. He had arranged to test his fitness in Hechtel, Belgium, on Saturday, three days inside the deadline for team selection.

Before sitting out the weekend's trials, Black said he was hoping for the right roll of the dice. Now it appears that his game is over without him having had a turn.

Black will nevertheless be included in the relay team, where his ability will be vital in mounting a serious challenge to the American holders of the title.

The decision will clearly have satisfied Baulch, who said on Sunday that he felt he had proved himself over three rounds of racing, even though he had not been able to break 45 seconds.

Thomas, who lowered Black's 1996 British mark by 0.01sec to 44.36sec, and Richardson, who maintained his consistent form with a time of 44.82, both backed Baulch, while paying tribute to the help and inspiration Black has provided for everyone in the event.

Britain's 400m men will, as expected, be likely to face Michael Johnson in Athens following yesterday's confirmation by the International Amateur Athletic Federation that defending champions from 1995 will be given wild cards to compete in Athens.

That opens the way for a number of athletes, many of them American, to take part despite failing to qualify in their national trials.

Johnson, who could contest both the 200 and 400m in Athens, pulled out of a meeting in Stuttgart on Sunday because he has still not recovered from the injury which kept him out of the US trials.

But his agent, Brad Hunt, said yesterday that Johnson would be at the World Championships, as would Dan O'Brien and Gwen Torrence, whom he also represents. "They will be there," he said.

By the same token Jonathan Edwards, Britain's only champion from 1995, need not prove his fitness to the British selectors having missed the trials with a heel injury.

Wild cards will be given to champions at all World Championships in the future and the idea is to be extended to indoor and cross-country championships.

If their national teams agree, defending champions will also be allowed to switch events. But in that case each country would still only be allowed to field the maximum three athletes per event.

This unprecedented move has been championed by the IAAF president, Primo Nebiolo, who has seen the marketing impact of his favourite event diminished by the absence of high profile athletes, either through misfortune, or in the case of those such as Marie-Jose Perec and Haile Gebrselassie, by design.

Gebrselassie, who regained his 10,000m world record 11 days ago, confirmed yesterday that he would not compete in Athens because it was too hard.

"I competed the Atlanta Olympics 10,000 metres event suffering great injuries with blood flowing from my soles," he said. "It took me a long time to recover from that injury and I do not want to undergo similar sufferings.''

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