Athletics: Backley has to hope others fail

Steve Backley was left with an anxious two-hour wait at a rainswept Stade de France yesterday before learning whether he had done enough to reach tomorrow's javelin final.

On a runway turned into a paddling pool by the elements, the 34-year-old Sidcup athlete could only finish fifth in his qualifying group with an effort of 80.23 metres, just 77cm short of the automatic qualifying mark.

That meant Britain's most experienced athlete had to hope that, with 12 due to go into the final, no more than seven other throwers from the second qualifying group of 10 - all but one of whom had thrown 80 metres or more this season - went beyond his mark.

Throwing second, Backley managed to get in his opening throw before the rain started, but his habitual preference for qualifying with one big effort misfired as he registered 79.27 metres.

As the runway became more slippy, several throwers, including Aki Parviainen, second on the all-time list behind Jan Zelezny, fell over - it was like watching Formula One cars with the wrong tyres on.

Backley kept his footing for his second effort, and stepped over to annul his third and final throw which he released a couple of metres short of the line.

Boris Henry, of Germany, led Group A with 83.43 metres, with Russia's Sergey Makarov on 82.22 metres, China's Li Rongxiang on 81.76 metres and Andrus Varnik on 81.11 metres. Parvianen finished a place below Backley on 78.91 metres.

The United States, who have seen their sprint relay strength depleted this week by the withdrawal of Jon Drummond, injury to Maurice Greene and Tim Montgomery's decision to go back home after his disappointing fifth place in the 100m final, have drafted two athletes into the squad - the long jumper Dwight Phillips and the high hurdler Terence Trammell.

Although the departures have reduced their chances of earning a third consecutive world sprint relay title, the quality of the new arrivals underlines their strength in depth - Phillips's 100 metres best is 10.16sec and Trammell's 10.04sec.

Jade Johnson, who contests the long jump final today, has revealed that she will need to seek treatment at the end of the season for a kidney complaint which has meant her having to take antibiotics to compete.

"I have had a nightmare year," she said. "I have had to deal with this thing on and off all season. I don't know what causes it - I will have to get it sorted out at the end of the season."

The 23-year-old Commonwealth and European silver medallist, who qualified for the final with an effort of 6.62 metres, 11 centimetres below her personal best, believes that France's heptathlon silver medallist Eunice Barber, top qualifier in 6.82 metres, is the favourite.

"At the Commonwealths and Europeans last year I was an underdog, and I see myself as a little underdog in the final here," Johnson said. "If I manage to make the top eight and get a personal best I will be delighted."