Athletics: Financial threat to absentee performers

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The Independent Online

UK Athletics will dock earnings from athletes who choose not to compete at the Norwich Union Trials and AAAs in a bid to raise the profile of the indoor event.

A quarter of an athlete's promotional earnings and prize-money could be kept from those who steer clear of the meeting at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield on 7 to 8 February.

The UKA's performance director, Max Jones, said: "The Trials and AAAs is our national championships and it is vital for the health of the sport that we have as many of the élite athletes there as we can.

"At the outdoor trials and AAAs this year we made changes that saw an increase in the level of club athlete participation, and these measures should build on that success."

Jon Ridgeon, the managing partner of the meeting promoter, Fast Track, said: "The reality is, élite athletics is now a professional sport and to ensure that our very top athletes perform in the trials and AAAs, we are initiating season-wide deals for the first time.

"This year around 100 athletes benefited financially from the seven UKA domestic televised events and so it is in their best interests to do everything they can to ensure that these events remain attractive to the BBC, spectators and sponsors."

Daniel Caines, the former world 400 metres gold medallist and indoor specialist, will not be competing on this winter's lucrative indoor circuit.

On the advice of his coach and father, Joe, the 24-year-old is concentrating on preparing for next year's Olympic Games. Caines won the world indoor title two years ago and narrowly failed to retain his crown when he was beaten on his home track in Birmingham by the American Tyree Washington in March.

Tim Benjamin, who topped the British outdoor 400m rankings this year, and fellow Welshman Jamie Baulch, who shared the bronze medal with Ireland's Paul McKee behind Caines, will compete in the indoor season.

The heptathlete Carolina Kluft and the triple jumper Christian Olsson, both from Sweden, have been voted the European athletes of 2003, the European Athletic Association said yesterday. Kluft became one of only three heptathletes to score more than 7,000 points when she won the World Championships in Paris in August. The last heptathlete to top 7,000 was Jackie Joyner-Kersee, of the United States, 11 years ago.

The 24-year-old Olsson has won 15 outdoor competitions in a row and has jumped more than 17 metres in 53 out of 55 competitions since 2001.