Athletics: East eases his way back as McCormick looks to improve

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The Independent Online

It was the first venture into a competitive arena this summer by the standard-bearer of British men's middle-distance running. East was the only male British athlete who reached an Olympic final on the track in an individual event in Athens last summer, finishing sixth in the metric mile. Since then, the 26-year-old has been hampered by injuries to his right knee and his left hip, although he suffered no obvious problems yesterday as he eased into a qualifying place for the final, content to finish behind Chris Mulvaney and Nick McCormick.

"I'm fine, but I'm obviously not race fit," East said afterwards. "Racing's a different ball game and the first race of the season is always tough, especially when it's a heat. I've just got to get a few more races under my belt."

The next race for the Commonwealth champion will be the 1500m final this afternoon, in which McCormick will be looking to continue his impressive progress of late. The 23-year-old Morpeth Harrier heads the British rankings with 3min 37.66sec and has been shrewdly nurtured by Lindsay Dunn, a former training partner of Brendan Foster and Charlie Spedding, who helped to guide both Gateshead runners to Olympic bronze medals as a coaching adviser.

The most impressive performance yesterday came in the final of the women's 100m hurdles. Having relieved Diane Allahgreen of the British indoor 60m hurdles record in the winter, Sarah Claxton came within 0.01sec of Shirley Strong's 22-year-old championship record. Her winning time, 12.96sec, was as notable as her winning margin - 0.25sec, ahead of Allahgreen. Back in fifth place, in 13.35sec, Kelly Sotherton completed the first half of her weekend's work in preparation for the heptathlon at the World Championships in Helsinki next month.

Earlier in the day, the Olympic heptathlon bronze medallist had won her high hurdles heat in 13.65sec and then taken sixth place in the high jump with a clearance of 1.85metres. "I'm quite frustrated," Sotherton said. "This is the start of the second part of my season and I expected a bit more. I'm disappointed with my placings."

The Birchfield Harrier is likely to place on top of the pile in the long jump today. She also competes in the shot on the second and final day.