Athletics: McConnell victim of warm-up jinx

World Championship trials: Mishaps and missing persons blight AAA meeting before Tullett brightens the mood
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The Independent Online

For the second day in a row, the warm-up track at the Alexander Stadium proved a little too hot to handle for one of the leading lights of British track and field. On Friday night, on the opening day of the Norwich Union AAA Championships, the trials for next month's World Championships in Paris, Natasha Danvers came to grief. Limbering up for the heats of the 400m hurdles, the woman ranked third in the world this year tore fibres in the arch of her right foot.

Yesterday, Lee McConnell was the casualty. She suffered what was described as slight hamstring damage while preparing for the 400m final. On the advice of a medical official from UK Athletics, the 24-year-old Glaswegian withdrew. Like Danvers before her, McConnell insisted she would still be fit for the World Championships, which open in the Stade de France in four weeks' time.

Nevertheless, the misfortune of the woman who was the find of British athletics last summer, when she won Commonwealth Games silver and European Championship bronze, came as an untimely blow for a meeting blighted by withdrawals and absentees.

The list of the missing was starting to read like a who's who of the British team. It included Jonathan Edwards, Paula Radcliffe, Ashia Hansen, Steve Backley, Nathan Morgan, Chris Tomlinson, Kelly Holmes, Jo Pavey and Helen Clitheroe. All have minor ailments except Edwards, who as a reigning world champion has automatic entry for Paris, but like McConnell and Danvers they are expected to be fit to compete.

So few athletes turned up for the women's 1500m that the heats were scrapped and the event run as a straight final yesterday. It proved to be little more than a training exercise for Hayley Tullett, who held back for 800m before closing on the leader, Hayley Ovens. She swept past just before the bell en route to a convincing and impressive victory in 4min 8.12sec.

It maintained an excellent run of form by the Commonwealth silver medallist, who finished runner-up in the 3,000m at the European Cup in Florence last month and who reduced her 800m personal best to 2min 00.49sec in Madrid last weekend. The Swansea Harrier is clearly flourishing under the guidance of Mark Rowland, the Olympic steeplechase bronze- medallist in Seoul in 1988. Challenging for a medal in Paris might not be beyond her burgeoning scope.

Just getting there remains the target for Helen Karagounis. In the absence of McConnell, the Nottingham athlete won the 400m final, powering past Catherine Murphy in the home straight. It was her second notable success in a week, following her gold-medal run in the European Under-23 Championships in Bydgoszcz last weekend. Her winning time, however, was 52.51sec - 0.14sec short of the time she needs for selection.

Ian Mackie needs to improve his personal best by 0.03sec in the men's final today to secure a Paris place in his first season as a 400m runner. The Dunfermline man ran an impressively controlled semi-final yesterday, sensibly conserving energy as he eased through in second place, behind Daniel Caines and ahead of Iwan Thomas.

Jamie Baulch was less successful with his conservation attempt in the second semi-final, easing down too much as he neared the line and losing the fourth and final qualifying place to James Chatt.

Sadly for Tara Krzywicki, even making it to Paris is an impossibility. She happens to be Britain's leading female steeplechaser, and the steeple-chase is not due to be added to major championship competition until the 2005 World Championships in Gothenburg. Still, at least the Charnwood athlete pocketed a $2,500 bonus for breaking her 2,000m record at the discipline, clocking 6:28.07.

The daughter of Dick Krzywicki, the former Huddersfield and West Brom footballer, she was not the only child of an ex-Welsh international sportsman to strike gold on the track yesterday. At the European Under-20 Championships in Tampere, Finland, Rhys Williams won the 400m hurdles in 51.16sec, breaking Matt Elias's Welsh record. The Loughborough student is the son of JJ Williams, the flying left wing of Welsh rugby union in the 1970s.

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