As the second day of the Norwich Union AAA Championships got under way yesterday, Dave Moorcroft, the chief executive of UK Athletics, and Max Jones, the performance director of the domestic governing body, were in a room at the Alexander Stadium, being grilled by the press about the mass of big names missing from a meeting which doubles as the World Championships trials.
"What do you want us to do?" Jones demanded. "Drag people out to compete who have injuries?" As he spoke, on the track outside the first race of the day was being won by an athlete who had dragged herself out of retirement to compete.
Twelve months ago, Lisa Kehler hung up her racing shoes after crossing the finish line outside the Lowry Centre in Manchester as the silver-medal winner in the 20km walk at the Commonwealth Games. "If I carry on, I think my husband will kill me," she said in the aftermath of a thrilling duel with Jane Saville, the Sydneysider disqualified 120m from victory in her home-town Olympics.
Yesterday Kehler lapped all but one of her seven rivals to win the 5km walk. She finished 1min 4.89sec clear of Estle Viljoen, a South African member of Hercules Wimbledon Athletics Club, in 23min 10.15sec. "Theoretically I am retired," Kehler said. "I'm here because they're trying to take the walks out of some meetings and we needed a good show here."
The biggest threat to Kehler's emergence from retirement, it transpired, had not been her husband, Martin, a GP, but the demands of her hectic life as a mother of two and a doctor at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton. "I've been working, doing postgraduate medical exams and I've got the kids to look after too," the 36-year-old said. "I haven't been able to do much training. I've just been getting out with the dog in the early hours. I certainly won't go to the Olympics next year, but I haven't ruled out the Commonwealth Games in 2006. I'll only be 38 then."
Kehler was just 18 when she first stood on the podium, winning a bronze medal at the 1985 AAA Championships. Two of her Wolverhampton and Bilston club-mates took golds that year - Kathy Cook in the 200m and Tessa Sanderson in the javelin.
Kehler has been Britain's leading female walker since 1986, although she has had breaks in her career - for study, maternity and now premature retirement. She has won three Commonwealth medals: bronze at 10km in 1990 and 1998 and silver at 20km in 2002. And it is a mark of her longevity that she has won her four AAA titles in three separate decades: in 1987, 1995, 2002 and 2003.
Not that she will be at the 2003 World Championships. There are no track walks on the programme, and none of Britain's walkers have achieved qualifying times in the road events.Reuse content