Athletics: British relegation exposes dearth of men's talent

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The Independent Online

Britain had a host of proven winners at the European Cup which concluded in the Luigi Ridolfi stadium on Sunday night. Sadly, however, the days when it could count on maximum points from Sally Gunnell, Linford Christie, Jonathan Edwards, Steve Backley, Colin Jackson and Steve Cram - all here either for broadcasting or coaching purposes - have gone.

Unfortunately for the men, who lost their Super League status for the first time in the event's history, the two domestic athletes who retain that old bankability are both women - Kelly Holmes, who is fast approaching retirement, and Paula Radcliffe, whose sterling efforts in helping Britain's women regain their Super League place at the weekend have landed her in a German clinic suffering from a back problem.

Dave Collins, who took up his post as UK Athletics' performance director in March, accepted that the men's relegation showed up weaknesses that go deep. And, depressingly, he does not feel able to say that they will emulate the women in gaining an immediate Super League return.

"I don't think that's really a question I can answer," Collins said. "It all depends upon the balance of what the opposition have got and what we've got. I'm confident we can make a difference to performance by next year. But we can only guess what effect that will have in this competition."

Though quick to defend Britain's selections, Collins admitted several individuals underperformed at the weekend. Late withdrawals by Damien Greaves and James McIlroy in the 110 metres hurdles and 800m cost Britain dear, while Chris Rawlinson, fifth in the 400m hurdles he won last year, was clearly unfit after a hernia operation. But as Rawlinson said afterwards: "I'd like to be passing the mantle to someone else. But there's nobody." And there is the root of the problem.