Athletics: Aldama to turn back on Britain in quest for passport

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The Independent Online

To lose two golden girls of track and field could be deemed rather careless. To lose a third would be clumsy in the extreme on the part of British athletics, especially given the conspicuous lack of a Midas touch at the recent World Championships in Paris. And yet, it seems, Yamile Aldama is destined to go the same way as Fiona May and Eunice Barber before her.

In the continuing absence of a British passport, Aldama is getting ready to look elsewhere for an international identity. The Cuban triple jumper, who has lived in the East End of London since November 2001, plans to begin the search after ending her season at the inaugural IAAF World Athletics Finals at the Stade Louis II here in Monaco this afternoon.

Considering she enters the competition heading the world rankings this year, the loss would be entirely Britain's, as it was when May left her homeland for Italy, and won two world titles as a long jumper, and when Barber left her sister's home in London to settle in France, and won world titles as a heptathlete and a long jumper.

Having already waited 22 months for her passport application to be rubber-stamped, and missed World Championships indoors and out, Aldama is not prepared to risk losing a shot at Olympic gold next summer. Unless the Home Office fast tracks her case, the 31-year-old will not become a British citizen until November next year, three months after the Athens Games.

"To be honest, we have to start making enquiries to see if we can place Yamile in another country," her coach, Frank Attoh, confided last night. "I'm really not hopeful that she'll get British citizenship in time for the Olympics, which is a shame, because I think the country needs medals. What happened in Paris showed that."

Apart from Paula Radcliffe, who set a world best time in the London Marathon in April and who continues her comeback in the Flora Light Challenge 5km road race in Hyde Park tomorrow, Aldama is the only British-based athlete at the top of the world ranking lists - courtesy of the 15.29m she jumped in Rome in July. She lives in Limehouse, has a British son, competes for Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers, and is coached by Attoh, a former British international triple jumper.

To compound Aldama's deepening sense of frustration, she sat in the Stade de France last month watching the former Kenyan Stephen Cherono striking gold in the steeplechase as a $1,000-a-month Qatari recruit and cheering Magdalin Martinez, her former Cuban team-mate and training partner, to a bronze medal in the triple jump for Italy. Qatar and Italy are among several countries believed to be monitoring her situation.

"We've wanted to focus on the track season, rather than chase any interest," Attoh said. "After she jumps tomorrow, perhaps we can start looking around."

A victory over Tatyana Lebedeva, the Russian who won in Paris, would no doubt widen the scope of choice. The $30,000 prize on offer to all winners in Monaco would also help Aldama. She is expecting her existing assets to be frozen following the conviction in May of her Scottish husband, Andrew Dodds, for drug-trafficking offences.

Dwain Chambers (100m), Kelly Holmes (800m) and Hayley Tullett (1,500m) are also competing in the two-day end-of-season meeting, a successor to the old Grand Prix Final.

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