Athletics: Hansen faces agonising battle to return

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The Independent Online

Ashia Hansen's career has been a long sequence of setbacks and comebacks, but whether she can return, as she hopes, from the awful injury she sustained in the triple jump here on Saturday seems doubtful indeed.

The 32-year-old European and Commonwealth champion is due to have an operation in London today on the left knee which buckled under her during her second jump and caused her to collapse into the pit, screaming in pain before passing out.

Hansen has ruptured her patella tendon and will certainly miss the rest of this season, including the Olympics, where she was one of Britain's few firm medal prospects. She was reported as saying she planned to return next year, but that looks a tall order, given her age.

It was revealed yesterday that Hansen and other British jumpers had noticed faults in the run-up on Friday at a warm-up. "You could see it was dipping, and it had little bumps in it," said Phillips Idowu, who finished third in yesterday's triple jump.

The event moved to a pit at the other end of the stadium after the British team made a complaint. Charles van Commenee, the UK Athletics jumping coach, investigated the track yesterday using a spirit level and found it dipped between the take-off board and the pit. Video evidence suggested, however, that Hansen did not land on the main problem area.

Whatever the reason for the latest and most severe of her injuries, the real question concerns her recovery. When Jonathan Moore, Britain's winner of the world youth triple jump title in 2001, sustained a comparable knee injury the following season, rupturing his cruciate ligament, it took him more than a year to get back into action at long jump. And 23 months on, he has yet to return to triple jumping.

Hansen, whose achievements were honoured with an MBE last year, is a friendly and vivacious character, and a hugely determined competitor.

After setting a world record in winning the 1998 European Indoor title, a foot injury meant she missed that year's European Championships, although she won the Commonwealth title a few weeks later. The following year she won the world indoor title, but an Achilles tendon injury began to hamper her and she went to the 2000 Olympics far from fit, finishing 11th. She competed in Sydney with personal trauma on her mind following an incident which saw her former boyfriend jailed for a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice after staging a faked racist incident outside her home.

In 2002 she won Commonwealth and European titles and in March last year won at the World Indoor Championships after having numerous injections in her heel, which was operated on shortly afterwards.

This event was only her second sinceand should have been an indicator of prospects for a medal in Athens. Instead, it will be remembered as the event which left a scar on the heart of British athletics.