Athletics: Ignoring the hurdles suits Sanders fine

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Nicola Sanders found a simple solution to the obstacles that were holding up her progress in life. She simply got rid of them. Until last year, this 24-year-old from Amersham in Buckinghamshire was attempting to pursue a career in the 400m hurdles, an event where she had made an early name for herself by taking the bronze medal at the European Junior Championships of 1999.

But after a disappointing and hugely frustrating performance in last year's Commonwealth Games, where she finished just outside the medals, she finally decided to switch to the 400m flat

"I was in better shape than my result showed," she said yesterday as she prepared herself for racing at today's Norwich Union Grand Prix in Birmingham. "I was running so well it felt the hurdles were in the way. I had so much more running left in my legs at the line."

What helped make up her mind was the fact that she had exacerbated a hamstring injury that would have made further hurdling impossible for the season. So the hurdles were for the high jump, and Sanders embarked on a run of performances that have seen her emerge as a favourite to take the European Indoor title in Birmingham next month.

She finished last season having made the European Championship final, where she was sixth, and having reduced her personal best to 50.68sec. And last Sunday in Sheffield she produced what was arguably the outstanding performance of the European indoor trials, winning in a time of 50.60sec that puts her almost a second clear at the head of this year's world rankings.

"I wasn't planning to do the European Indoors originally," she said. But after talking to her coach, Tony Lester, Sanders chose to take up the challenge. It is a decision that will be welcomed by Katharine Merry, the Olympic 400m bronze medallist of 2000 who retired two years ago.

Merry, who believes that Sanders will soon surpass her own British indoor record of 50.53sec and can realistically eclipse Kathy Cook's long-standing outdoor mark of 49.43sec, said this week that choosing not to seek a medal at the 2001 World Indoors despite being in excellent form was the biggest regret of her career.

Last March, in Melbourne, Sanders was a member of the England 400m relay team which was deprived of Commonwealth gold by disqualification following a controversial appeal from the second-placed Australian team.

If there is any justice, Sanders will gain a tangible consolation when the Championships take place in the National Indoor Arena from 2-4 March.