Athletics: Pidgeon brought down to earth

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The Independent Online

Emily Pidgeon's ambitions came splashing down to earth at a rainswept domestic season opener here yesterday as she limped out of the 3,000 metres steeplechase after coming to grief at the water jump.

The 16-year-old prodigy, who won the European junior 5,000m title and a junior silver in the European cross-country championships last season, caught her leg on the barrier on the second lap and plunged face downwards into the water. Although she got up and continued, she had to drop out after clearing another couple of barriers and was shepherded away from the track by her coach, David Farrow, and her mother, Jessica.

"It's so ridiculous, I thought I was over it," Pidgeon said. It was a disappointing weekend all round for the girl who has already earned approving notices from Paula Radcliffe. The day before, on the same track, her British junior 5,000m record was overtaken by Sian Edwards, who was 10th-placed junior in the World Cross-Country Championships two months ago. Edwards took four seconds off the mark, recording 16min 00.18sec to earn qualification for this summer's World Junior Championships in Beijing.

Pidgeon has not decided whether to compete in the steeplechase in Beijing or try to earn a place at the European Championships in Gothenburg, but her experience at the Loughborough International meeting was the reverse of what she required.

The same could not be said for two of Britain's other outstanding young athletes, sprinters Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, the world 100m and 200m youth champion, and Craig Pickering, the European 100m champion. Both produced encouraging performances in a 100m won in a personal best of 10.29sec by 23-year-old Tim Abeyie, with Aikines-Aryeetey second in 10.42, and Pickering third in 10.43.

Unlike Pidgeon, Aikines-Aryeetey has targeted the World Juniors this season, and his run confirmed the progress he felt he had made last month when he was invited to spend a fortnight training with the Olympic champion Justin Gatlin, under the eye of coach Trevor Graham, in Durham, South Carolina.

"At this stage of the season last year I was running 10.6, so I'm really happy with that," said the 17-year-old sixth-former from Sutton.

Pickering has been invited to next month's Norwich Union meeting at Gateshead, which is due to feature the joint world record-holders Gatlin and Asafa Powell, but his coach, Malcolm Arnold, has advised him against taking part. "I don't know if there's any point in going to get beaten by six metres," Pickering said.

Aikines-Aryeetey, in contrast, is clearly eager to run in Gateshead, although he has not yet been offered an invitation. His performance was duly noted by the promoter of the Gateshead meeting, Ian Stewart.

Abeyie is coached by Linford Christie, who hovered in the background in supervisory mode as his quietly spoken charge faced his first prolonged questioning from the media.

Unlike Pickering, Abeyie intends to take up his invitation for Gateshead, which will offer him another early opportunity to take stock of his fitness after returning from a six-week training break in Sydney with Christie and fellow sprinter Darren Campbell.

Abeyie was well satisfied at taking 0.08sec off his best and he is keen to challenge for an individual place at next month's European Cup in Malaga. The Belgrave Harrier has recently been added to UK Athletics' list of those receiving development grants of up to £5,000 from the National Lottery.

"I haven't seen any of the money yet, though," added Pickering, who works part-time driving children to and from the Court School near his home in Cardiff. "It's a school for kids who have been kicked out of other schools," he said. Usually he collects five boys from their homes. "I tell them to listen," Abeyie said. "Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't. They don't like the police when they come in - it sets off a big riot at the school."

There was satisfaction for another young England prospect, Jessica Ennis. The Commonwealth heptathlon bronze medallist recovered from a serious wobble in the 100m hurdles to finish second in 13.79sec.