Athletics: Britain's new faces line up for European talent show

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The Independent Online

Like the Sports hall in which they compete at the 28th European Indoor Championships this weekend, the British team contain a wealth of new material.

The Palacio de Deportes de la Comunidad - which the city hopes will host handball at the 2012 Olympics - required extensive rebuilding after a fire four years ago. Rebuilding is also on the agenda for UK Athletics, whose team of 45 athletes contain 16 who are making their international championship debuts.

"This event has a history as a proving ground for young athletes," said Dave Collins, the newly ensconced successor to Max Jones as UK Athletics Performance Director. His views were echoed by the head coach here, John Trower, who described the new internationals as "the innocents", adding: "We are looking to people here to rise to the occasion." These Championships allowed the likes of Sebastian Coe and Linford Christie to earn their first big international victories, opportunities they took respectively in 1977 and 1986.

While Britain's most obvious prospect of gold disappeared earlier this week with the withdrawal through injury of the double Olympic champion Kelly Holmes, they will still be looking for podium appearances from other Athens medallists such as Jason Gardener, defending champion at 60 metres, and his relay colleague Mark Lewis-Francis. Both will need to be at their best to withstand the challenge of the Frenchman Ronald Pognon.

The heptathlon bronze medallist Kelly Sotherton, competes against the Olympic champion Carolina Kluft in a pentathlon which will be completed today. There will be high hopes too for the 3,000m runner Jo Pavey and the triple jumper who so traumatically failed to register a distance in the Olympic final, Phillips Idowu. The man who turns into Tigger when things are going well desperately needs to recover his bounce in the event, and this offers him an ideal chance.

But it is "the innocents" who will provide the most intriguing prospect. Will Sarah Claxton, fourth in the European 60m hurdles rankings this season, earn tangible reward for a new level of performance that saw her reduce the British record to 7.96sec last month? Will her counterpart in the men's event, Allan Scott, claim similar success from the same position in the European list? The 22-year-old from East Kilbride has apparently been performing better than ever before in training this week and could improve on his best of 7.58sec here. What will Katherine Endacott, a 25-year-old student from Plymouth, make of top class opposition when she takes her place in the 60m heats this morning?

Collins, previously Professor of Physical Education and Sports Performance at Edinburgh University, has arrived at an opportune moment to evaluate the depth of talent within UK Athletics.

He inherits a position where he must oversee the reduction of athletes being supported by the Lottery on the World Class Performance Programme from 82 to 40, although he is arguing the case with UK Sport when it comes to funding the relay squad, whom he believes should be treated in the same way as a rowing four or eight.

However that battle turns out, the majority of the British team here - 31 out of 45 - are existing without World Class Lottery funding. But Collins could find himself with the problem of accommodating some new faces by the end of this weekend.

Meanwhile, Paula Radcliffe, who will not be contesting this weekend's British trials for the World Cross Country Championships in St-Etienne on 19-20 March, has been given a week to decide whether she intends to seek a third title.

TV coverage: 16.25-19.35, Saturday, BBC2. 16.00-18.30, Sunday, BBC2.