Athletics: Olympic setbacks for Radcliffe and Gardener

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The Independent Online

Britain's two best athletics medals prospects at this summer's Olympics, Paula Radcliffe and Jason Gardener, announced untimely setbacks to their Athens preparations yesterday.

Britain's two best athletics medals prospects at this summer's Olympics, Paula Radcliffe and Jason Gardener, announced untimely setbacks to their Athens preparations yesterday.

Radcliffe pulled out of this weekend's IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Brussels, where she was due to seek a third title, because of a hamstring injury.

A few hours later, news emerged that Gardener, who won the world indoor 60 metres gold in Budapest two weeks ago, underwent surgery yesterday to repair a double hernia which he had suffered unknowingly prior to winning his first global title.

Gardener complained of recurring pain in his stomach during the Budapest competition, and tests revealed the cause. He should be back in full training within three weeks.

Radcliffe, Britain's strongest prospect for gold at this summer's Olympics, stressed that the problem she picked up during a training run near her home at Loughborough last Sunday was not serious.

But the news will set alarm bells ringing within the domestic sport given the proximity of the Athens Games, which start on 13 August.

"I went for my usual long run on Sunday morning and everything was OK," said Radcliffe, who won world cross-country titles in 2001 and 2002. "In the evening I went for a light run and felt a stiffening in my hamstring and knew I needed treatment."

The injury responded well to the attentions of medical staff at Loughborough University's UK Athletics High Performance Centre, but the world marathon record-holder was not convinced that she was ready to compete.

"I found it impossible to run uphill and in a cross-country race there will always be plenty of them," she said. "Now it's a case of getting back into training. That should be soon as it isn't a serious injury."

Radcliffe was believed to have taken into account the fact that she could expect harsh, muddy conditions this weekend.

Her coach, Alex Stanton, confirmed that if the World Cross Country Championships had been a week later, she would have been able to compete. "But I am very worried because this is Olympic year," he said. "We've got one date on our minds this year and that's it, so we are not taking any chances."

This marks another dip in what has been a switchback ride for Radcliffe in the past year. Injury and illness prevented from her taking part in last year's World Championships, but she returned to action in the autumn to run the world's fastest half-marathon in the Bupa Great North Run and then take the world half-marathon title before suffering a defeat in the Ekiden Road Relay in Japan.

In December she made a winning return at the European Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh, but three weeks ago she was beaten into second place in the self-styled World's Best 10km road race in Puerto Rico, after which she maintained, as she had after the Ekiden reverse, that she had been suffering from a virus.

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