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Athletics: Pavey faces stern test in first stage of long race to Melbourne

Jo Pavey faces a tough threat when she hits the comeback trail at the Boclassic 10 kilometres road race in Bolzano this weekend. The 32-year-old, twice an Olympic Games 5000 metres finalist, will be racing for the first time since injuries and illness ruined her hopes of obtaining a leading position over the distance at the summer's World Championships.

Pavey will welcome in the new year at the Italian venue against Susan Chepkemei and Isabella Ochichi, two of the world's leading distance runners.

The Kenyan pair will be favourites at the head of a strong field.

Pavey will compete in a short winter season, taking in road and cross-country competitions. Both disciplines will be excellent preparation for the experienced British international before she goes to Australia for the Commonwealth Games in March. The Exeter Harrier will represent England over 5000m in Melbourne.

Pavey has not ruled herself out of the IAAF World Cross-Country Championships, which will be held in Japan almost immediately after the Commonwealth Games.

She has already been pre-selected for the Great Britain team in both the long and short-course races on 1-2 April.

The selectors have given last year's European cross-country bronze medallist until 11 March to confirm her availability and which distances she will race over.

On Saturday Chepkemei is contesting her first race since finishing runner-up for the second successive year in last month's New York marathon.

But current performances indicate Ochichi, Olympic 5000m silver medallist, will have the upper hand.

* Grit Breuer, whose career as a 400m runner began in the former East Germany, announced her retirement from athletics yesterday. Breuer, who will be 34 in February, said injuries were beginning to take a toll on her body and that doctors had advised her to quit. "I accomplished everything that I wanted to accomplish," Breuer, who won a gold medal with the German 4x400m relay team at the 1997 World Championships in Athens, said.