Athletics: Rawlinson's run-up to Paris disrupted by injury problem

Hurdler's withdrawal at Crystal Palace hits Britain's World Championships medal hopes as Greek authorities face weather worry
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The Independent Online

In a former competitive life, Chris Rawlinson was a contender in the Gladiators television show. Judging by the form he has shown thus far this season, the Rotherham man is likely to be a serious challenger for a medal at the World Championships, which open in Paris a fortnight today. If he makes it to the start line, that is.

Having produced his most consistently impressive run of results since emerging as a world-class 400 metres hurdler with a stunning 48.14sec clocked in Zurich four years ago, the 30-year-old Commonwealth champion found himself hamstrung by injury when he should have been honing his preparation for Paris in the Norwich Union Grand Prix meeting at Crystal Palace last night. With a torn groin muscle, Rawlinson joined the list of British medal hopefuls who have fallen foul of physical mishaps on the road to the French capital.

He remains hopeful of taking his place in the British team in Paris, but a blow to fitness in such proximity to the championships may well affect his form and his chances of finishing on the medal rostrum. Having established himself in third spot in the world rankings, Rawlinson had high hopes of adding a global medal to the Commonwealth gold he took in his stride in Manchester last summer.

Last night he planned to attack Kriss Akabusi's British record of 47.82sec. Instead, the former lifeguard added his name to the lengthy list of British athletes who are doubtful or who have been ruled out of the World Championship reckoning. Injury and illness has already claimed Dean Macey, Ashia Hansen and Katharine Merry, while Paula Radcliffe has yet to decide whether she is fit enough to contest the 5,000m, 10,000m or both. Then there are Kelly Holmes, Natasha Danvers, Lee McConnell and Jo Fenn, who were all testing the rudeness of their health in last night's showpiece meeting. One notable international absentee, from the line-up for the women's 100m, was Chandra Sturrup, the Bahamian sprinter who has emerged as the world No 1 in the event in the absence of Marion Jones this summer.

Even if she manages to prevail in the annual ISTAF meeting in Berlin's Friedrich Ludwig Jahn Stadion tomorrow, though, the Olympic relay gold medallist will not be banking on a share of the $1m (£625,000) jackpot in the International Association of Athletics Federation's Golden League series. At the halfway stage in the six-event programme, only Sturrup, in the women's 100m, and Maria Mutola, in the 800m, still boast 100 per cent records. The looming return to action of Jones, however, has cast a threatening cloud on Sturrup's horizon.

Jones' partner, Tim Montgomery, revealed in London on Thursday that the Olympic champion plans to compete in the ultimate Golden League meeting of the season, the Ivo Van Damme Memorial in Brussels on 5 September. The news came as a tale of the unexpected on the international track circuit, Jones having giving birth to a son, Tim Jnr, on 28 June. It will have been noted with particular interest by Sturrup, and probably with more than a little unease, too.

A 31-year-old graduate of Norfolk State University in the United States, Sturrup has seen off all challengers thus far on the Golden League schedule, emerging victorious in Oslo, Paris and Rome. She faces a difficult enough task in maintaining her winning streak in Berlin, though.

The meeting director, Florian Schwarthoff, has attracted a strong field for the women's 100m, including Zhanna Block, the woman who dethroned Jones as world champion in Edmonton two years ago. The Ukrainian will be running her first Golden League race of the summer, having stepped on to the comeback trail following a pre-season quadriceps injury.

The American veteran Gail Devers is also among the entrants. The 36-year-old is preparing to challenge for a fourth 100m hurdles crown at the World Championships, which open in Paris a fortnight today, but she has also qualified to run in the 100m, an event in which she won World Championship gold in Tokyo in 1991 plus Olympic gold in Barcelona in 1992 and in Atlanta in 1996. Another rival to Sturrup in Berlin is Kelli White, the woman who succeeded Jones as the United States 100m champion in June.

Kim Batten's world record for the women's 400m hurdles was eclipsed at the Russian Championships in Tula yesterday. Yuliya Pechonkina, a silver medallist at the World Championships in Edmonton two years ago, clocked 52.34sec - an improvement of 0.27sec on the record set by the American at the 1995 World Championships in Gothenburg.